As a six-time Ironman finisher, and a twelve-time marathoner who has competed at the Half Ironman World Championships, Nikki Salenetri is no stranger to the fitness world. “I’m really passionate about health, fitness, and wellness, and I’ve been an athlete my entire life,” Salenetri shares. She’s channeled that passion to build a successful human resources career in the health and fitness industry, where she leads Gympass as its vice president of HR.
For grad school, Salenetri studied industrial organizational psychology at NYU, and that led her to enter the HR field. But she didn’t take the path that most did, choosing to go in-house rather than consult at change management organizations. While at NYU, she worked at Retensa, and when the company was looking to sell business to Dow Jones, Salenetri used the connection to land a position as an HR coordinator for the larger company.
After three years, she entered the fitness world when Equinox reached out to her on LinkedIn. The company was looking for someone who was aligned with what they were doing and an HR manager who cared about wellness.
Her next role combined her love for the fitness industry with her experience from the publishing industry when she joined Rodale, which publishes such magazines as Women’s Health and Runners World. When they were purchased by Hearst, she felt it was time for a new opportunity.
“I wanted to try my best to stay in the fitness and wellness space, and I was lucky to find an opportunity at Gympass,” says Salenetri, whose initial position was head of human resources. “When I joined, we were working in a super different way than we are now. It was very siloed, and I was essentially the first HR hire in the US,” she explains.
That allowed her the ability to build her own team as well as the processes and practices of the entire HR department.
“Over time, as our company has evolved, I have focused on creating more scalable processes and things that we can implement globally,” she says. “We’ve shifted from doing everything for our regions to having more specialized teams within HR and supporting the business more from a functional standpoint. At this point, I am a global business partner for a few different functions that we have at the organization and oversee HR systems and operations globally as well.”
One of her first initiatives was establishing a program that allows for twelve weeks of fully paid parental leave. She helped implement an employee engagement software tool that provides critical data to help the HR team understand what programs to create to be impactful.
Another of the big initiatives that Salenetri led was the implementation of a global WorkDay in January 2020, which combined three different HRIS systems from different regions into one global system, and that process aligned with bringing the benefits and payroll in-house.
“It was an aggressive goal and timeline, and it was a real challenge to create a system that worked for different regions because different countries have different compliance concerns and different ways of doing things,” she recalls. “It was eye-opening for me, and it’s shifted how I approach any project I work on at Gympass now, making sure I understand from my global counterparts what they’re experiencing in their regions to make sure what we’re putting in place from an HR standpoint works for everyone.”
When COVID-19 hit, it was something of a big challenge, and it threw some things at her she wasn’t prepared for.
“In HR, no matter how long you do it, I feel there’s always something that comes up that you’ve never dealt with before, and though I didn’t think a pandemic would be one of those, here we are,” she says, laughing. “It really challenged us in a lot of ways to figure out how to transition to a remote workforce and support our employees and managers with those changes.”
Being a health and wellness company, it was also critical that the HR team made sure employees focused on their health—especially their mental health—during this time and had the resources available to them that they needed to take care of themselves.
“They looked to HR to make sure our employees felt like they were taken care of and felt like they were safe,” Salenetri notes. “We put a lot of emphasis on supporting our managers and making sure people were staying engaged and productive. We provided a lot of resources to them to help and held global town halls once a week to encourage more communication.”
She also arranged social opportunities like no-shower happy hours, starting with a workout at 1:00 p.m. on Fridays and allowing workers to take off the rest of the day; introduced an app called Donut that randomly put people together to do a coffee meet-up; and utilized Gympass product offerings to support employees from a health and wellness standpoint.
“We want to be sure we practice what we preach and that our employees really feel that they could live a healthy lifestyle,” Salenetri shares.