New York Yankees’ CHRO: “You’re a Part of Something Bigger than Yourself”

Janette Perez discusses the excitement, the hours, and the struggle for balance when working for the New York Yankees

Have you always been a baseball fan, or did you become a fan when you joined the Yankees?

Janette Perez: I’ve always been a fan. I grew up in Brooklyn, and I remember listening to games on the radio. Sometimes my dad took us to games, too. Of course, now that I work here, I actually get good seats.

How did you end up at the organization?

Perez: I graduated from college in 2000 as an English major, which meant I didn’t know what I wanted to do so. Eventually, through a temp agency, I ended up at McCall Pattern Company, filling in for someone in human resources who was on maternity leave.

I’d never really considered human resources, but they asked me to stay, and I did for three years, after which I went to MTV, focusing on employee benefits, lead management, employee engagement, and events. I developed a passion for human resources, and one day I got a phone call from a recruiter for the Yankees.

Is working in human resources for a sports team different from working in human resources for another type of company?

Perez: Well, I came from MTV, which is creative and laid back, so a 10 o’clock meeting meant 10:15. Here, it’s more buttoned up. But the big difference is that working for a sports team, the hours are crazy. We work regular hours, plus games and events. We sometimes go nineteen days without a day off.

That must present a lot of challenges from a human resources perspective.

Perez: It does. When people are here nineteen days in a row, sometimes for ten to twelve hours a day, they’re tired and get burned out easily. We also have game-day employees, which I’ve never experienced before. These are part-time people selling tickets, taking tickets, hosting premium boxes, acting as game-day ambassadors. We go from a few hundred full-time employees to 500 employees on game days.

What policies and procedures do you have to put in place to deal with those challenges?

Perez: When I first got here, there wasn’t a structured human resources department. They’d tried to start one a few years before, and all that was left was a handbook from 1992, and it was really outdated. So my challenge was establishing some guidelines.

Can you give me some examples? Where did you start?

Perez: We put a paid-time-off policy into place, which really helps if you have limited vacation days because you’re new and you don’t want to pretend you’re sick. We put flex time in place as well, so if you’re here late one night, you can flex in late the next morning or out early the next afternoon. Also, when I got here, there was an “all-hands-on-deck” policy for games and events—so, for example, if you were in accounting, you’d have to be here during the game, even if you did not have game responsibilities. Now, it’s the manager’s decision.

There are also a lot of little things. During the off season, we try to close the office early on Fridays or let people wear jeans, which aren’t part of our regular dress code. We also opened our subsidized game-day press cafeteria to employees, so they can get anything they want to eat for five dollars, without needing to go out.

Was it a challenge to get management on board with those initiatives?

Perez: Everyone was really receptive, but I threw a lot of things at them at once, things that hadn’t been done in the past. So I had to explain how it would benefit the organization, because happy employees equal happy organizations equal happy owners.

Are there any new initiatives you have underway?

Perez: We’re working on diversity. Sports, especially baseball, aren’t diverse (which is especially noticeable for us, because we’re in a community that is). Major League Baseball (MLB) wanted to do something to bridge the gap, so it began running its Diversity Business Summit, which gives job seekers and entrepreneurs the unique opportunity of meeting with MLB’s clubs at both the Major League and Minor League levels. We hosted the conference in 2014. That was great for the organization and the community. It let us find incredible talent, and job seekers got a foot in the door at major sports organization.

What’s your favorite thing about working for the New York Yankees?

Perez: The excitement on a game day is unbelievable, and just being a small part of the history of such an incredible organization makes you feel special, part of something much bigger than yourself.