Following their recent TINYaward, we spoke to Senior Vice-President of Human Resources, Amy Waryas about how the Boston Red Sox has kept employee happiness high in the face of tight schedules and long work hours.
For over a century, the Boston Red Sox has played a special role in their city's cultural identity. No trip to Boston is quite complete without a visit to Fenway Park. The sights and sounds of this iconic venue continue to attract both die-hard fans and tourists alike, eager to experience the energy and excitement it brings.
For most visitors, that enthusiasm is lavished on the players. But what about the people behind the scenes? The Boston Red Sox team is bigger than you think: Over 1,500 men and women work together to create that magical atmosphere both on screen and across the bleachers.
One of the star players on that team is Amy Waryas, a champion of authentic company values and culture. As Senior-Vice President of Human Resources, Amy has helped spearhead initiatives to create the best work environment possible for her teammates.
And her hard work has paid off: the Boston Red Sox recently won a TINYaward in one of our most competitive categories: The Happiest Company in the arts and entertainment industry, competing against dozens of other eligible organizations.
This is a particularly impressive achievement when you look at the nature of work at the organization. With 81 home games in a season, the team faces an action-packed schedule that involves many employees working nights, weekends and holidays.
So what's her secret? What is it that makes Boston Red Sox employees so happy at work?
We caught up with Amy following her TINYaward win to find out what the Red Sox is doing right and what other organizations can learn from their approach.
Congratulations on your TINYaward! What does this Award mean for you?
I think since culture has been such a big strategic focus of ours, it’s really rewarding to know that what we’re doing is resonating in some way and having an impact. My work spans across a lot of areas of Human Resources but I’ve always viewed culture as being the most important thing that I could help develop. So to get a TINYaward and know that we are making a difference with some of the things we're doing was very meaningful.
Why is it important for an organization like the Boston Red Sox to have happy employees?
The nature of our business is that the hours are very different than what you would typically see in a normal company. We can have a 10 game home stand, followed by a couple of concerts, followed by another 10 game home stand. People are here a lot, they’re working a lot, and because of that it’s even more important that we’re working on our culture and making sure that our employees are happy and feel well cared for.
Here’s the other aspect to it: I’m a big believer that if you’re happy, you’re more connected to the organization, willing to work those long hours, and give extra effort to the things you do. The reason culture is such a huge focus for us is because it’s a 24/7 operation here and it’s not just limited to the baseball season anymore: we try to do as many events year round as we can. Because of that we really ask a lot from our people and we want to make sure we’re giving back to them.
Is the happiness score in TINYpulse something you pay close attention to? Are there any other ways you monitor employee happiness and engagement?
We definitely pay attention to it. We pay attention to all the insights from TINYpulse and the feedback behind the scores is particularly important to us. Beyond the happiness scores and what we get from TINYpulse, we also make sure that we’re constantly talking to people, and also getting feedback from people who aren't the typical responders on TINYpulse.
One way we’ve done that is through a Culture Club we started right around the same time as TINYpulse. Through Culture Club, we’re able to engage more effectively with people in other departments, as well as with our managers and make sure they have a pulse of what’s going on in their groups.
What sort of initiatives have come out of Culture Club?
We actually have a meeting today that we’re really excited about. We learned a lot about Culture Club from TINYcon and we’re evolving it so it will be less led by leaders and more by the group members. In our last meeting we had people brainstorm some areas they were interested in and thought would impact the culture in a positive way.
From that meeting there were four key themes that emerged: recognition, fitness and well-being, team building and internal education-- which involves learning about other groups and departments. We actually have a meeting today where the Culture Club members are going to be sharing some of their ideas for actions that we can take for each.
We’re excited to see what comes from the group being led by the members, versus myself from an HR perspective. It’s nice to see people taking ownership.
Is it usually the more senior employees who are interested in joining Culture Club or do employees from every part of the organization take an interest too?
We really do have a good range of people, all the way from vice presidents down to every level in the organization. The Culture Club members are obviously very passionate about working on these issues. But every aspect of culture, happiness, and our values are supported at the senior most levels as well. I think that if they weren’t it would be hard to make progress.
When Sam Kennedy became our president, culture was one of his biggest focuses from the get go. It’s great to have someone like him as our president, who understands culture and wants to put it in the spotlight. If we didn’t have that we really wouldn’t have been able to accomplish all that we have.
In your TINYcon interview, you mentioned Sam Kennedy said that he wanted the Red Sox to have the best culture in all of sports. Do you think you’re there yet?
I definitely think we’re on the journey to get there. It’s still a work in progress, and even when it is great you can never rest on your laurels or think that you’ve done enough. Even though the scores are where they are, there's still definitely room for improvement. Culture always has to be a focus because otherwise you can get set back if you start taking things for granted.
How does culture and your company values relate to employee happiness at the Red Sox?
I think they all go hand in hand with each other. I see our culture as being defined by our values: We want to set our ideals and make sure people understand expectations in terms of how we want people to treat each other and what behaviour is acceptable. One of the things I’ve always said is that the values can’t just be on a piece of paper. Every time you take action you have to ask yourself “Is this consistent with our values?” and if it isn’t, you really have to question whether you should be doing it. You also have to think about what actions you can take to support your values.
We’ve tried to be very intentional about what questions we’ve asked on TINYpulse to make sure that they’re hitting some of the different values and getting feedback around them. I think that in order for us to have a happy and engaged workforce, culture’s important, culture’s linked to the values; they’re all kind of integrated with each other.
Apart from Culture Club, what are some other impactful initiatives you’ve taken to improve the work environment at the Red Sox?
So we have a space within the park that we use for media dining during games but it wasn’t ever open during the off season. That was until one of our employees had an idea for us to create a front office lounge that served lunch during the off season. That way, employees could come together to sit with people they don’t normally sit with that would help foster interdepartmental relationships and open communication. That initiative was wildly well received.
Here’s another example: When Sam took over as president, he began inviting outside speakers to our quarterly Town Hall meetings to talk about things relevant to our culture. We’ve had different high profile folks from all different types of businesses and industries come to speak. We had the former president of JetBlue come in and talk about how they formed and created their culture and what was important to them. This has really helped us learn from people outside about topics that are relevant for us.
Who is the most memorable speaker you’ve had at a Town Hall meeting?
For me, it was when Billy Bean came to speak. His story had people in tears. Billy works in the central office at Major League Baseball on matters of social responsibility and inclusion. He’s a former major league baseball player who has written a book about his story of coming out as a gay man after he retired from baseball and his own personal journey. It was amazing hearing everything he went through, what he’s learned and how he’s helped athletes going forward. That personally was the most impactful speech to me.
It sounds like some of the speakers can really inspire employees, not just in their professional lives but their personal lives too.
Yes, we actually had one of our employees come out to us around the time of a big celebration we had at the park for Pride week in Boston. After hearing Billy speak, he called Billy to share his own personal journey and then came out in a very public way to the organization. Billy’s speech was personally inspiring to him, and seeing him do that was inspiring for all of us. Also, knowing that we were creating that kind of culture and environment was just really wonderful.
Is there a particular moment of happiness that stands out in recent memory?
In January upon the request of our new manager, Alex Cora, we chartered a plane with some players and members of the front office to Puerto Rico. One of the employees who went on the trip works on our security staff. He’s an incredible individual and his father was down there. Sam told me it was just such a meaningful moment to see him reunite with his father and such a special experience to witness and help bring together.
Seeing employees come together with their families and knowing that the Red Sox is helping communities in Puerto Rico was incredibly rewarding for the people who went on that trip. As well as rewarding for those of us that didn’t - just to see the organization have that kind of impact.
People really do get passionate about giving back to the community here. And not just our community but the greater overall community where help is needed. So we’re going to continue to look for opportunities to do that, because it really does have a direct link to people’s happiness at work-- knowing that they can make a real difference in the lives of others.
Marty Walsh - Mayor of Boston, Sam Kennedy – President & CEO of Boston Red Sox, William Miranda Torres – Mayor of Caguas, Puerto Rico (Alex Cora’s hometown), Alex Cora – Red Sox Team Manager
Having spoken with Amy, it's clear that working with the Red Sox means letting go of any hopes of a regular nine-to-five. While everyone else is socializing, Red Sox employees are hard at work - and for prolonged stretches of time. The leadership team understands this, as well as the other unique challenges the organization presents for employees. By inviting feedback through TINYpulse, engaging with employees and creating opportunities for people with shared interests to connect with each other, the Red Sox is able to overcome these issues and build a real sense of community.
Amy and other members of senior leadership obviously have a good sense of what it takes to have a great company culture. But what really stands out about their approach is their enthusiasm for learning from other organizations and bringing together a range of employees to help shape that culture. Many of the initiatives Amy cited that had a positive impact on happiness have their roots in employee suggestions. Human Resources have merely acted as facilitators for bringing these ideas to life.
The Red Sox understands that employee happiness isn’t something a handful of people in a conference room can build a strategy for. It’s a constant process involving participation from people in every department and every level of the organizational hierarchy. After our conversation with Amy, it seems pretty clear why her employees are happy: when they speak, the Red Sox listens.
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