What gets the Yankees playing their best?

What gets the Yankees playing their best?

During one particular week in each of the last nine seasons, the New York Yankees have won 72% of games. This not only beats their regular record, which is 56% wins, it also beats the best team in baseball on almost any day (for example, the Houston Astros lead the major leagues today with 67% wins).[1]

Why do the Yankees play outrageously well during this one week every year? No, fellow Red Sox fans, it’s not because they’re trouncing our team. The best explanation is that the Yankees are on something that provides a mental high and a performance boost: Social purpose.

This winning week is Yankees HOPE Week. During HOPE Week, every member of the Yankees plays a role in surprising worthy individuals, families and organizations by celebrating their accomplishments. Relief pitcher Dellin Betances and a few teammates, for example, spent one day enjoying the Bronx Zoo with an 11-year-old boy fighting leukemia and his 7-year-old sister who donated bone marrow to her brother. Research suggests that this charitable pre-game activity gave Betances a physiological edge. Thanks to dopamine and other feel-good chemicals, he was likely happier, more energetic and more focused when he walked onto the field. His fastball might have even carried a little extra speed. No wonder he didn’t give up a single hit.

A plethora of studies find that when we help others or support a societal cause, we are not only happier, but we unknowingly work longer, harder and better. One such study was on workers who label images online. A subset of workers were told their work would support medical research on tumors. Despite equal pay per label, those who thought they were promoting health processed more images, spent more time on each image and did higher quality work than their colleagues.[2]

Guess what? Just like the Yankees, you can make a positive social impact from your existing job and benefit from the same performance boost. It’s a matter of making small adjustments to work, what’s called “job purposing.” The Yankees adjusted their pre-game preparation. You might exchange the monthly team lunch for a volunteer stint at the local shelter or invite a nonprofit nominated by one of your team members to give a 15-minute presentation at your weekly staff meetings, for example. For more ideas on how to purpose your job, read Six Small Acts that Ignite Purpose at Work.

What might be most surprising about the Yankees’ job purposing is that it made me their advocate, if even for a day. As a rabid fanatic of their archrival Red Sox, complimenting the Yankees is typically unconscionable. Might another benefit of job purposing be disarming detractors? Quite possibly. For the full story on that, however, tune into a future post.


[1] For more on the superior Yankees performance during HOPE Week see Newsweek article by Anthony Rieber: http://www.newsday.com/sports/columnists/anthony-rieber/why-yankees-have-a-higher-winning-percentage-during-hope-week-1.13674516

[2] Dana Chandlera and Adam Kapelnerb. “Breaking monotony with meaning: Motivation in crowdsourcing markets.” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization. 2013.

This post was originally published on LinkedIn on the post date and reposted here in January 2018 when this site launched.

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