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Gatorade's workplace fitness program not your average wellness initiative

Gatorade's workplace fitness program not your average wellness initiative

Imagine setting a fitness goal — and then announcing it to your entire workplace. Or joining your office-mates in a daily round of planks or jumping jacks.

A little scary? Perhaps. But it's a way of life at Gatorade, whose in-house athletic program is a lot more ambitious than the typical employee wellness initiative. The Chicago-based, PepsiCo-owned brand has for years encouraged and rewarded employees to set personal physical fitness goals. But Gatorade stepped up its game this year with a new version of the program called “G-Feat” that recently concluded.

The six-month program gives the brand's roughly 150 employees the choice of following three tracks: endurance, strength training and fitness. Employees are not required to participate. But Gatorade encourages involvement and goal-setting by subsidizing program costs and giving access to trainers, class fees and training gear.

For example, the fitness track includes gym access two times a week and is supplemented with access to CrossFit and Bar Method classes in Chicago. The endurance track might include group swims and runs to prepare participants to compete in a marathon or triathlon.

About 95 people, or roughly two-thirds of all employees, took part in the first year of G-Feat, according to the brand. The program is about “living out what we do every day,” said Brett O'Brien, Gatorade's senior vice president and general manager, who noted that the brand's mission is to “make sure athletes increase their performance.”

“We are putting ourselves in the shoes of our consumers,” said Mr. O'Brien, who participated in the endurance track and took part in three triathlons this summer. For instance, an employee who is training as part of G-Feat might notice they need to drink Gatorade at specific intervals, or that a certain flavor needs to be changed, he said.

Without that firsthand knowledge, “you are just kind of relying on the word of others, or you are just sitting in a focus group,” Mr. O'Brien said. As a result of participating in the endurance track, he said he learned “quite a bit about the triathlon community that I wouldn't have known if I was just reading or visiting a race.”

To drive accountability, participants are given access to the suburban Chicago-based Gatorade Sports Science Institute, so they can “determine their body composition and other physiological factors,” according to a G-Feat program description, which notes that the process is “similar to how we assess professional athletes.” As part of a larger initiative called “Win From Within,” employees are encouraged to make their goals public by writing them down and posting them at their office desk, so “colleagues keep each other motivated” and “hold each other accountable to show up for workouts.”

Also, every day at 3 p.m. Gatorade runs something called “G-Feat:60,” which is a 60-second athletic challenge held in the office — it might involve jumping jacks, planks or another brief workout.

“It's certainly not a requirement and it's not something you are frowned upon if you don't participate,” Mr. O'Brien said.

The only requirement for employees is that they set a “Win From Within” personal goal. This could be part of G-Feat — such as a goal to complete a triathlon — or it could be something non-athletic. “The whole idea … is what are you pushing yourself to do? It may be physical fitness,” Mr. O'Brien said. But it could also be something like trying to get home by 6 p.m. three days a week so that an employee can have dinner with their family, he added.

Still, most employees set athletic goals. “The majority of people who are really excited and passionate about working at Gatorade are either former athletes or current athletes,” Mr. O'Brien said. “But there is certainly a group of folks who just don't have that athletic bug at all. And that's OK. We need their help, too.”

E.J. Schultz writes for AdvertisingAge, a sister publication of Business Insurance.

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