What I Learned From Working With 300 Millennials

BY SAM MALOUF

Insights into cultivating a happy, emboldened workplace

Editor’s note: As part of our ongoing effort to publish occasional articles written by industry leaders, BedTimes offers the following piece by Sam Malouf, president and chief executive officer of sleep accessories supplier Malouf in Logan, Utah. We welcome other industry leaders to provide their input on bedding-sector issues.

Colleagues giving fist bumps after reaching shared goalWhat do all successful businesses have in common? They start with a great idea. They require a lot of hard work. And, ultimately, successful businesses sell a product or service that customers love.

But the key to success often is missed: The key is the people. Each business is composed of individuals with skills, talents and ideas that, when put into action, create forward momentum. And it’s that motion, that buzz, that makes a business come alive.

It’s important for a company’s leadership to start the momentum. But it’s equally important for leaders to pass it on to their people and empower and entrust them to raise it to the next level. At Malouf, we call this the “replace yourself” paradigm. For seven years, my wife, Kacie, and I did all the work. We wore all the hats. But once we began hiring people and dividing the tasks, we saw our momentum multiply.

So, let me pose another question: How can we, as leaders, learn to empower our people? The first step is quite simple. We have to know them.

According to the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank, millennials represent 35% of the American labor force, making them the largest generation in the workforce today. That means 56 million millennials are working or looking for work today.

Malouf is a young company — we just celebrated our 15-year anniversary. With a prominent university just a few miles away, our work force is quite young, as well. The average age at Malouf is just 29.

With that in mind, let me share four simple principles that have helped us create a culture where millennials (and every other generational group) thrive.

No. 1: Choose to be kind

It all starts with thoughtful actions that promote a positive, energizing and optimistic environment. Be helpful. Practice compassion. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Leaders should set an example of respect that spreads to every position and every person in the company. Kindness is essential to creating a positive culture where people become friends, not just co-workers.

Studies show millennials crave social interaction and value relationships. When we promote a psychologically safe and socially welcoming environment, our employees value the time they spend at work.

One goal we have at Malouf is to make time for meaningful conversations. We encourage monthly one-on-one interviews between managers and their team members. This strengthens relationships while creating a safe space to work through questions and issues.

No. 2: Promote work-life balance

It’s important to keep in mind that our employees also value the time they spend with family and friends. Work-life balance is important and should be a substantial focus for leadership. At Malouf, we have intentionally chosen to offer benefits and perks that help our employees maintain that balance, so that when they leave the office they can focus on their loved ones.

Our free lunches help employees save money on one meal every day, while enjoying delicious dishes from our farm-to-table scratch kitchen. Our free salon services save people time on the routine task of getting a haircut, plus they enjoy a 30-minute emotional break from the stress of work. And our company-paid insurance premiums help keep families healthy, while giving employees peace of mind that comes with knowing their families’ medical needs are met.

When millennials are happy and cared for, they are incredibly loyal. And they share that loyalty with their peers through sites like Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Indeed, Facebook and others. The insights they share can provide powerful feedback for your organization. I encourage you to embrace what your employees say about your company and learn from it.

No. 3: Seek opportunities to grow

Growth and success come from a combination of hard work and smart work. Don’t get too attached to your processes. To stay nimble and competitive, a company has to be adaptable. So, when an opportunity presents itself, you can act. And act fast.

Apply your company’s collective talent, have a strategy and then hustle. The younger generation is creative, and they want to be involved. They want opportunities to grow and stretch.

At Malouf, we facilitate a culture where employees can own their work. We hire carefully and then trust that they will do their best. And they do. That pride, ownership and responsibility can transform a new hire into a competent leader in a short amount of time. And that pays off.

No. 4: Find your cause

Helping other people feels good. It’s proven to increase self-esteem, strengthen friendships and provide a sense of belonging. Plus, it’s just the right thing to do. If your company doesn’t currently support a charitable cause, know that it is one of the most powerful things you can do for your employees — and your community. Do it.

We recently instituted charity paid time off. Employees can spend two hours a month serving local nonprofit groups — on company time. It’s exciting to see. We have groups volunteering at the neighborhood animal shelter, collecting toys for the local children’s center and hosting events to support the fight against domestic abuse and child sex trafficking.

The principle of giving isn’t unique to the millennial generation, but it is incredibly important to them. Embracing opportunities for growth is something we all strive to do. Elevating work-life balance benefits every employee. And being kind is something we learned as toddlers. These four principles aren’t new or revolutionary, but they have helped us become successful as a company and as individuals.