Helicopter Parents on the Job

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Some call their parents from the office five times a day. Some receive a bad review and quit their jobs, moving back home on their parents' urging. Others rely on their parents to weigh salary or compensation packages while some have seen a parent stomp into the workplace to rebut a bad review or boss's criticism.

The Millennial generation, or Generation Y, has entered the workplace and their Baby Boomer parents are keeping a closer eye on them than ever before, in many cases taking a very active role in post-college recruitment that continues through a Millennial's young career. Many leading employers are, perhaps unwillingly, embracing the idea of so-called "helicopter parents," so just how has this swinging change in demographics affected the workplace?

Many Generation Y experts define a Millennial as under 30 or born between 1979 and 1998. As a group, or stereotype, they are tech savvy, keen to succeed quickly and friendly with or reliant on their parents much more so than Generation X that preceded them. Both groups had very different influences and patterns of parental involvement from a young age. Trick is, Generation Y started entering the workplace after college or grad school about three years ago, which is when some surprising tales started emerging from employers about helicopter parents.

Annika Hylmo, a partner with the Interchange Group, which offers consulting services to businesses, says instances of helicopter parenting in the workplace are "definitely more prevalent." She adds: "Parents are in the background. It is impacting workplaces significantly. It adds to workloads, managing both parents and offspring. When you're not only dealing with an employee conflict, or a review that didn't go well, the parents are calling in, 'Why did my little Johnny get a bad review?' That's something that HR has to deal with.

"A lot of younger employees want to take their parents to the workplace to show them around. It becomes almost a given, or they would participate in a family day. Younger people are staying in touch with their parent even at work, often several times a day.

Phillis Weiss, a generational expert and author of The Rainmaking Machine, agrees. "We've heard of a couple instances of parents calling up when they were unhappy with performance reviews. People are talking to their parents five times a day. They ask a lot of questions now in the workplace; it drives their bosses crazy. If they expect an immediate response from a manager, they might not get it." Heidi Golledge, CEO of Cybercoders, confirms that a candidate will often ask to run their compensation package past their parents before they accept or reject the offer.

Another consultant tells the story of a young woman who walked into her manager's office and demanded to quit. The Millennial had just been through employee training and thought after making some progress that "she was going to knock it out of the park." But even before a review had taken place, the Millennial had not received adequate praise and therefore thought she would quit before "she got fired." Her parents had urged her to move back home. Her manager gave her a coaching conversation, the consultant said, and now she'd doing just fine.

JT O'Donnell, a workplace and career coach, says the key for any manager is building trust. Often, she says, company executives – often Baby Boomers like many helicopter parents -- find they are in the same position with their own children.

"One of the things is to manage expectations. An employer needs to be parental, coaching in dealing with conflict and criticism, to remind a young person [they] are an adult. Part of it is defining who you are, how to live independently, explaining [that] this is your job and your life, and you will be held accountable."

O'Donnell says managers are often teaching the difference between loyalty and professionalism, though often managers say they lack time to do that. Unfortunately, she says, that's often what Millennials need.

Some employers have adjusted their hiring or workplace practices to the new generation. Both Dow Chemical and Merrill Lynch offer a parents day to let young employees show their parents their workplace. Many are increasingly tailoring their recruitment materials to the parents of a recruit.

Hylmo says employers need to "plan ahead." She says: "You're not only recruiting the child, you're recruiting the parent. Understand that every step of the negotiation process, even though their parents are not present, employees are going back to their parents at home. They're going to be involved in every step of the process. A lot of employees will come in with expectations fueled by parents. Sometimes, they give up easily, they do want to see things happen quickly. When that doesn't happen, they often get frustrated and move on. So companies need to adapt."

Hylmo says parents also need to adapt, and to remember that from a parent's perspective it's in the best interests of their child to take a step toward independence. Some experts also suggest that, while their motives or intentions are good, parents are holding back their kids by not letting them do things on their own.

Weiss explains: "Part of it is that the Boomers worked so hard, with mother and father in the workplace. They're trying to make up for time spent working. And they have very high standards for their offspring. It's very much a culture where they want to participate in what their kids do.

"Interestingly I hear from teachers, elementary or middle school, that the Gen Y parents are even worse. This whole hovering phenomenon is becoming part of how society operates, it's very child centered. Gen Y are the generation that's had more attention than any in history. When we talk about helicopter parents it's a small percentage, it's just that it's a big change in the workplace."

Kanna Hudson, a Seattle-based consultant for www.millennialgeneration.org, says: "It's important to note that helicopter parenting is pretty specific to certain socioeconomic populations. Not all parents of Millennials have the time or resources to hover over their kids all the time. It's more prevalent among affluent parents who have really pushed their kids to succeed all their lives, who did all the scheduling of sports practices and music lessons, and helped them apply for college... and never manage to lower their level of involvement even after they move out of the house."

Some suggest that's just the opportunity needed to stand out by the many Millennials whose parents do take a back seat.

Anna Livey, a career coach and Generation Y expert, says: "In some ways there's an opportunity. There are plenty of Gen Y'rs who are professional and mature and they are really sticking out now. There's now a meaningful way to distinguish themselves."

Next: 5 Workplace Whoppers We All Tell >>

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