Saturday, October 18, 2008

Tampa Bay Rays offer perspective on building multi-generational workplace

Key question: Do you make younger workers adapt to your culture or are you willing to adapt your culture to younger workers?

Whether small or large, most U.S. businesses are dealing with differing generational expectations, attitudes and values brought into the workplace by their employees. These differences are causing misunderstanding and strife between employees, as well as employees chafing at corporate culture and policies. The cause of such misunderstanding and irritation is that the generations currently comprising the vast majority of the U.S. workforce –from youngest to oldest: Millennials, Generation X, Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation – are retaining more of their generational “personalities” than previous cohorts.

The three teams remaining in the Major League baseball playoffs (Philadelphia Phillies, Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox -- the Los Angeles Dodgers have been eliminated) offer varying approaches to building multi-generational workplaces. Consider that:

  • Players are Millennials, Gen Xers and even a Baby Boomers (Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer).
  • Middle management tends to be Xers and Boomers.
  • Top management and ownership includes Xers and Boomers.

Try to change workers
or change some for workers
While the Phillies and Red Sox have taken a more traditional approach that integrates their younger players into their culture, the Rays have made more adaptations to their organizational culture to better reach, involve and maximize the performance of their younger workers.

Some examples of how the Tampa Bay Rays have adapted their organizational climate to maximize younger workers include:

  • Hiring a manager who is open to the differing style of younger players. Whether their music, haircuts, or understanding that younger players want some work-life balance, Rays manager Joe Maddon recognized that such work style differences are not bad... just different from what other generations of players did.
  • The Rays showed significant trust the organization's younger players. Management was criticized in many quarters for not acquiring more of a "veteran presence" late in this season as a precaution if their young team wilted under the pressure of making the playoffs.
  • Over the last several years, the organization made significant investments in younger workers. Early this season, Rays management made a very unusual decision to sign a player who had been in the major leagues for only one week to the longest contract in team's history -- 9 years with six of those guaranteed! It should be noted that the player, third baseman Evan Longoria, was bound to the club for many years at a lower salary due to the rules agreed upon by the players union and Major League Baseball.
  • In addition, the ownership showed trust in the team's president and general manager -- both in their early 30s -- in making such key decisions.

No matter the outcome of the playoffs and World Series, the Tampa Bay Rays have shown organizations can benefit from examining their cultures, practices and climate and understanding that a "that's the way we've always done it" philosophy might not be the right fit for today's workers or the business environment it finds itself in today.

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