Helicopter Parents in the Workplace: It Happens and It Needs to Stop

The concept of helicopter parents buzzing around the workplace, just like they hovered and swooped on the elementary school soccer field, sounds like a joke.

No doubt you’ve heard of this phenomenon parents sitting in on interviews or calling to re-negotiate a child’s compensation package. NBA recruit Lonzo Ball has recently received a ton of attention for his dad’s, um, involvement, in the draft process. Some of the stories are so egregious that you may wonder if these incidents are bizarre outliers, blown out of proportion by the media.

Let me assure you: They are not.

My clients tell me that parents calling to discuss their child’s needs, performance or compensation has become a common occurrence in HR departments. Let’s take a look at why it is happening, and more importantly, what we should do about it.

The Roots Of Helicopter Parents

First, I want to emphasize that helicopter parenting is usually (but not always) a middle class/upper-middle class phenomenon, and by no means applies to every member of the millennial generation. However, due to several different reasons, parenting norms in the 1980s and 1990s, when millennials were growing up, leaned toward closer involvement with one’s children. Parents became more involved with virtually every aspect of their children’s lives, from education to friendships to extracurriculars and more. More than half of millennials consider a parent to be their best friend.

As these parents’ kids grew, it’s easy to see how their parenting progressed from calling the kindergarten teacher or soccer coach, to emailing the high school teacher, and then contacting the college admissions office, and now corresponding with recruiters and employers.

When Is Parental Involvement Okay?

Some companies view parental interest as a boon and welcome employees’ parents as their “secret weapon,” inviting them to employee orientations or encouraging them to sign up for the company newsletter. Every November, LinkedIn hosts a “Bring In Your Parents Day,” a concept embraced by many other companies with younger workforces.

The reason organizations are catering to parents is to build loyalty from their youngest employees: Millennials and their parents are still tightly connected, and a parent’s opinion of an employer could sway a young employee to stay with that organization. Recent studies show that 1/3 of millennials still live with their parents, the top living arrangement among this age group. A parent who likes an employer can help a child retain a positive perspective through the daily ups and downs of work.

Land the Helicopter

Of course, behind-the-scenes support and attending social events is one thing; active outreach is another. Parents should not directly contact a child’s employer. It is uncomfortable for the employer and often works against the employee rather than helping him or her. Here’s what to do if this situation does, however, occur…

If you’re a manager

The good news is that most parent calls will likely go directly to HR the equivalent of a parent calling the principal rather than a teacher.

But there will occasionally be times a parent will reach out. And while a mom or dad’s call might annoy you, don’t automatically let it diminish your respect for an employee. In fact, don’t always assume the son or daughter knows. It’s quite possible they would be horrified to find out. Instead, politely but firmly inform the parent that you’re not at liberty to discuss your employee’s salary, review, etc.

It might even help keep you out of hot water, says Jaime Klein, founder and president of Inspire Human Resources. While sharing with a parent is not in violation of a specific law, it is unprofessional and definitely goes against an employee’s expectation of privacy, she says.

“What the parent is contacting the employer about — whether it’s benefits, performance or salary — is likely confidential, and without knowing if the employee has authorized the call or the sharing of information, it’s in the best interest of employers to say nothing,” she says.

On the other hand, it’s perfectly fine to let parents know that you’re interested in them as part of your employee’s “work/life integration.” So perhaps create a FAQ that describes your company or department or invite them to a company picnic. As discussed above, recruiting them as allies can be a powerful asset to your retention efforts.

If you’re a millennial

Even if your parents used to intercede with a teacher when you got a poor grade or argued with a coach for more playing time, having them try to finesse a less-than-stellar performance review will backfire on you and make you appear immature.

In my book Getting from College to Career, I mentioned that while it’s fantastic to have your parents as career advocates, it’s critical that they be in the background rather than interfacing with your clients, boss or HR. If you want advice from your mom on how to handle a client visit, definitely call her and role play some Q&A, but don’t do it on speakerphone during a ride-along with your boss, as one manager told me a millennial employee recently did.

If you’re a parent

Just. Don’t. Call. Cheer all you want, but please, stay on the sidelines rather than running onto the field. A call to an employer will likely do more harm than good. It’s time to land the helicopter.

Have you had to deal with helicopter parents in a work situation? Please share your experience in the comments or on Twitter.

Lindsey Pollak is the leading expert on millennials and the multigenerational workplace, trusted by global companies, universities and the world’s top media outlets. A New York Times bestselling author and keynote speaker, Lindsey began her career as a dorm RA in college and has been mentoring millennials — and explaining them to other generations — ever since. Her presentations have audiences so engaged that, in the words of one attendee, “I didn’t check my phone once!” Contact Lindsey to discuss a speaking engagement for your organization.

2 Responses to “Helicopter Parents in the Workplace: It Happens and It Needs to Stop”

  1. Joe Kosinski

    Great post Lindsey! In the 25+ years that I recruited, it happened twice. The first time was “parental interference”. We had interviewed a woman, and her mom called to advocate for her daughter to be hired.

    A better story came when a candidate cancelled a second round interview. The candidate was to miss the recruiting season. Her mom called me to explain that her daughter had contracted a severe infection. She was near death, but was recovering. I confirmed with faculty at her school. We did the interview four months later after she had returned to school. She made up the lost time, and we hired her. She has been a high performer for the company ever since.

    Reply

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