By Mark Richards.

By the middle of the next decade, millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce. They are the generation who demand ‘free food and bean bags.’ But there is a growing employer backlash against the millennials’ sense of entitlement. How will the conflict be resolved?

I am not often allowed out of the office but it happened last week. A client took me to a meeting held in the city centre offices of a household name PLC.

The meeting was on the top floor. Palatial did not begin to describe it: a lavishly furnished boardroom/meeting room with a view over the city to the cathedral. When the meeting was over we went next door – into the company’s ‘wellness’ room.

“Actually,” said the person showing us around, “We think ‘wellness’ is a bit out of date. We call this our hygge room.”

In case you’ve spent the last couple of years in a cave, hygge (it is pronounced hoo-guh) is the Danish concept of being good to yourself – and it is about more than hot chocolate and stripy jumpers. Put simply, it is about ‘enjoying the good things in life with good people’ – and it is becoming increasingly common in the workplace.

The boom in millennials

Most people are now familiar with the statistic that millennials – those people who came of age around the turn of the century – will make up 75% of the global workforce by the middle of the next decade (which in two months will only be six years away…)

They are also familiar with the idea that millennials want different things from a job to their parents’ nine-to-five, change jobs as little as possible generation. Unquestionably, millennials are impacting the workplace, with companies desperate to adapt to what this new workforce wants.

That brings me back to the household name PLC and their wellness/hygge room. It had everything: the mandatory bean bags, settees, a mini-library, a plentiful supply of fresh fruit and – pinned up on the wall – a reminder of when the company’s next ‘mindfulness and meditation’ classes would be taking place.

Oh, and round the corner, there was a sleep pod. These have been obligatory in Silicon Valley for a while and – according to our guide – British industry would really benefit if employees spent more time ‘sleeping on the job.’

I have to say I was sceptical, so I did some research when I was back at my sleep-pod-free office. Well, what do you know? According to this Guardian article lack of sleep costs most developed nations 2% of their GDP – equivalent to around £40bn in the UK – and the dangers of sleep loss to your health are now well-documented.

How do small companies compete?

All that sounds fine and dandy: the question is, what do you do if you are a smaller employer (and the vast majority of people in the UK work for smaller companies) who do not have the resources of a major PLC?

Or will all the talented people be swept up by the Googles, Apples and other major employers who can offer mindfulness, meditation and plenty of mangoes?

Put simply, smaller employers simply will not have the resources to compete as millennials look to top up ‘wellness’ with flexible working and the demands that the company they work for ‘makes a difference.’

The Bean Bag or the Bottom Line?

The employers’ backlash

Unsurprisingly, there is a growing employer backlash against all this. As the title suggests, employers are starting to ask which is more important: bean bags or the company’s bottom line?

If you have 20 minutes to watch it, this argument is perfectly made by management thinker Simon Sinek in a YouTube video. If not, let me try and summarise his argument…

Millennials are tough to manage. They are lazy, self-centred, unfocused and only care about themselves. They demand that company they work for ‘makes a difference’ but they actually have no idea what ‘makes a difference’ means. They want free food and bean bags – and that is only the beginning – and even when all that is provided they are still not happy.

Why is that? Sinek suggests it is a combination of four factors: parenting, technology, environment and impatience. To take just one, millennials are, all too often, the result of failed parenting strategies. They have been brought up to believe that they are special – everyone is a unique snowflake – and they have been rewarded at school for taking part, not for winning. And if there is one thing the world of work very quickly teaches people, it is that they are not special – if you, or your company, don’t want to do the job then someone else very quickly will – and that there are no medals for coming last.

Why millennials are getting fired

Inevitably, this is leading to conflict in the workplace – and millennials are getting fired. An article in Inc back in 2015 identified the three main reasons:

Employers don’t want to be parents: millennials have grown up with the idea of being coached for everything and employers simply cannot do that all the time. There has to come a time when an employee stands on his or her own two feet and – bluntly – contributes to profitability.

Secondly, employers are getting fed up with the ‘anti-work’ attitude. As one (anonymous) employer put it,

“They want to work but only when it suits them. They want time off for sports days and nativity plays and yoga classes and sometimes – unavoidably – those dates clash with crucial client meetings.”

And employers don’t see millennials’ happiness as their responsibility. You attract someone to work for you with a gym membership and corporate events and beer Fridays. Then what? Many employers are complaining that millennials have an ‘I’m bored with that’ attitude and demand constant new perks.

If you are a small business you can only do so much – and I suspect that even the PLC I mentioned will find its millennials employees start to tire of the hygge room. But it is an inescapable demographic fact that millennials will make up 75% of the workforce. Some companies will get recruiting, retaining and motivating their millennial employees right and will succeed spectacularly. But I suspect there are also going to be a lot of tears – from both employers and employees – along the way.