Helicopter parents crash into the workplace

Helicopter parents

I have  been somewhat bemused by the spate of   articles over the last weeks advising managers and recruiters how to treat helicopter parents in the workplace.  I do have to confess however, to quashing a particularly strong maternal urge last year to hop on the Eurostar to give my son’s boss a piece of my mind. At best he was a truly lousy manager, at worst a bully. You will be pleased to hear common sense prevailed.

Interfering or intervening?
Yesterday, I was quite taken aback by a call from a well spoken woman who introduced herself as Nina. After some solicitous enquiries about disturbing me (she wasn’t), my health (I was fine) expanding, she announced she was the mother of Christian,  a candidate I seemingly had the temerity to cut from an interview process at the end of last week. Apparently, according to Mme Nina, I had overlooked many of  petit Christian’s superlative qualities. She  politely wondered if I had the depth of insight, or indeed the very qualifications required to make such a judgement call. I was kindly therefore prevailed upon, in the nicest possible way, to reinstate him “tout de suite” .

Time wasting
It took me a good 30 seconds to  process the implications of this dialogue. I should tell you that Christian is 26 years old, probably stands at 1m 85 in his socks  and had grossly exaggerated his accomplishments, to the point where fact and fiction are completely blurred  in his petit head. He and the CV writer, possibly Mama Nina,  had wasted a number of people’s time, including mine.

I have also observed a recent trend of moving away from being exasperated with this reluctance to cut the umbilical cord,  to one of understanding and even in some cases to accommodating  this new parenting style.  Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters said as far back as 2008 HR teams should turn this trend to their advantage by striking up a relationship with the families of new recruits and accepting that winning the backing of parents can considerably smooth the path,” 

He continued   “While I wouldn’t expect to see quite so much involvement by parents once the young person gets to his second or third job, it’s best not to be too rigid about these things. It is quite acceptable for people in their mid-20s to still want loads of backing from home.”

Men and women
There are indeed very valid cases where young adults need more parental  support than would be expected at their age:  learning difficulties, health issues or disabilities come to mind. But for fully functioning, above average IQ men and women  (because this is what they are) I realise that  I am clearly out of step with the zeitgeist. I still remain firmly in the “exasperated” camp  and see this accommodation of a co-dependent trend not just as a worrying infantilisation of the work place, but also damaging to the candidates themselves.  So I urge:

Parents please:

  • Don’t write your child’s CV for him/her. They will not own their own message and fall at the first hurdle
  • Don’t send your child’s resume to prospective employers on his or her behalf. They should do that themselves.
  • Don’t call employees advocating for your offspring whether for the position itself or compensation package.  It will generally lead straight to the reject heap.  You are depriving them of learning valuable skills.
  • Don’t  accompany junior to an interview, job fair or  any other meeting in the process. This will in many cases be the kiss of death for him/her.

In the words of Pink Floyd  ” leave them kids alone

GenY please:

  • Do take responsibility for your own career strategy. Be clear about your boundaries with Mum and Dad.
  • If you need mentoring or help and your parents are too invasive,  look for a neutral professional. If you struggle financially,   maybe your parents can step in – but as a loan. Make a formal loan  agreement and make sure you pay it back.
  • Do not be afraid to fail or change your mind. Make your own decisions and accept  (and pay for) the consequences.
  • If you feel afraid to make a decision without  the deep involvement of Mum and Dad – perhaps there is a need talk to someone outside your family. Can friends or even a professional support you?

The parents of most Millenials are generally out of touch with the job search skills required in today’s market place and in many cases are  mis-advising their kids in a number of areas. Intervening (interfering?) is not doing their children any service, but depriving them of vital life lessons which contribute to their maturity and workplace value.  They are: independence,  sense of achievement,  self-reliance, the ability to work autonomously,  the ability to self advocate, the ability to plan for themselves and to think strategically,  a willingness to learn from failure and the capacity to successfully move on.

Like babies who  need to crawl before they can walk,  these early career knocks are key developmental experiences. Culturally we are in danger of creating a generation which will struggle to be self-reliant.

What do you think?

23 responses to “Helicopter parents crash into the workplace

  1. I think the world is changing, old mores and certainties are dissolving, and we should be sensitive to that.

    Aside: If it’s good enough for officers and NCO’s in the US Marines to *be required* to know the families of all their men, why not in other walks of life?

    – Bob

    • Thanks Bob for your comment. I agree that the world is changing, but for me there is a difference between knowing the families and the parents creating an over dependence by doing things for their offpsring, that they should be doing themselves.

  2. @bob… Maybe because in any other job than the USMC (or military in general), you don’t have to prepare for the possibility of long separations and hardships and, more importantly, the possibility of having to make that dreaded “notification” call/visit…
    That aside, it’s not a bad idea to know the familes (read wives and children) of your employees, or at least know about them, as this can help to understand and motivate the employees…

  3. Oh Goodness, Dorothy, How embarrassed petit Christian must have been! Yes, the world is changing and parents seem to retain “parental” responsibility for their children for much longer. No longer are you thrown out of the nest somewhere between 18 and 23 and expected to get on with it. For me that is rather sad – taking responsibility for yourself is part of what builds resilience and as you say self-reliance.

  4. We have already created a generation that is not self reliant in the way previous ones were.

    The parents who went into school to complain when their child was rebuked or given detention (ask the teachers about this) are the parents of people in the workplace now.

    Whilst it is a nice part of the work life balance thing to know someone’s family background/issues in order to accomodate them where possible at work, most employers are not about to send their staff into mortal combat and the tight esprit de corps of the marines is a bit over the top for many employment environments.

    There have always been over involved and over controlling parents. There have always been sons (and daughters) who sat down and did nothing about getting a job and needed a prod. Sometimes it is a fine line to draw to get it right. My mother got my first serious boyfriend his first job by insisting he put in an application. He had a great career as a result of her intervention.

    My big problem is parents telling their kids things that give them false ideas about their rights and obligations in the workplace and setting them off with an idea of I have a right to everything but an obligation to do nothing. Don’t get me started!

    • Hi Annabel -I agree the older generations have created a strange situation for the younger ones. I’m sure there will be a mass of studies looking at the phenomena that exist in our cultures today. Thanks for your comment.

  5. I have a unique perspective to add to this mixture of ideas. I have lived with my Grandparents all my life. We have a matriarchal family structure. Ergo, my Grandmother is God in my house and in my family. As I grew up, she stopped standing up for me to other people. She transitioned into standing up TO me.

    Example: When I was younger and in high school (too young to know any better), she would call insurance companies about my doctor’s appointments and settle disagreements and bills. Now, when I call her to tell her they over charged me, she tells me to call them. When I call them and they walk all over me, she yells AT ME for not being more direct and persistent.

    I am not having my hand held and I’m glad she is attempting to teach me how to handle myself professionally but firmly to other people who think they can take advantage of my due to my youth and *assumed* ignorance. More and more, they are learning they are VERY wrong.

    • Hi Katrina – Thank for a different perspective. I think from what you have said your grandmother made a decision when the time was right to let go and made that transition accordingly. She moved into the role of mentor , motivator and advisor which is appropriate.

      I know from my own circumstances with my son that as a parent we hate to see our kids suffer. But there is a significant difference between guiding a young adult and getting into situations which prevent them learning from their own experiences. This is what I felt happened with Christian I’m afraid. He should have called me himself for a detailed de-briefing. In passing on my contact details to his mother he learned nothing personally as any feedback would be filtered through her experience of the situation which was shock and outrage.

  6. Dorothy, I’ve been providing advice to students on how to prepare for the job interview process and how to develop their careers, and I would tell every one of them to leave their parents out of it.

    While it’s terrific to have parental support, parents have no place in the interview process. I need adults who can think and act independently. They also need to exercise good judgement. The people I hire have to travel to customer sites to perform work, and I’d be horrified to have their parents travel with them.

    I haven’t run into this yet, but if I do, I would immediately disqualify any applicant who’s parents overtly participated in the hiring process. It’s a pretty clear demonstration that the candidate is not ready to function as an independent, professional adult.

    Finally, I find it pretty sad that parents retard their children’s development well into their 20’s and 30’s. Kids need to fail and fall down. They will never develop the skills and confidence they need to deal with adversity if they are never allowed to experience adversity. The results can be tragic.

    • Hi Becki – have to say that the other day was a first for me too, although on the coaching side I have had plenty of parents trying to set up coaching processes for the kids. That too also fails generally unless the offspring willingly engages.

      I heard from a number of people via Twitter that it’s frequently the dad who is the pushy workplace parent, especially of male candidates. I have only had one experience -so let’s hope it’s the last too!

      Thanks for your comment.

  7. I’ll be tweeting this to my readers, parents of adult children living at home. I wrote an article some time back about how to help your adult child get a job, and included the same don’ts as you do here (the do’s were related to helping them identify strengths they might have missed, and offering tips on real-world networking outside the online world). Some don’t believe me when I say parents actually do these things. Great to have a real example!

    • Hi Christina – thanks for your comment. I have only one direct personal experience, but enough input from different sources to suggest that this level of parental involvement in young adults job search strategies is indeed more widespread than I imagined. Time for all parents to reflect perhaps?

  8. Dorothy, I would likely have been a little “short” with mum … and her son for wasting people’s time. I run a business and take an interest in my employees, as such I may get to know some partners and perhaps a child or two. Life is busy enough without having to worry about their extended families. If my employees can’t do their jobs without their parent’s intervention, then its a good indicator that they are likely in the wrong place. Hence if their parents are inserting themselves into the hiring process its a great way to de-select from the process.

    • Hi Kevin -I was actually very polite and patient! I did explain that it was inappropriate to give candidate feedback on a hiring process to a third party. I added that I would be happy to arrange a de-briefing session with Christian by appointment. To date no contact has been made.

      This parental involvement is likely to alienate many!

  9. Marie Cummins Peirce

    This is all very interesting – I am a HR Professional and mother of 3 daughters – so can see both sides of this “new parent” debate. I believe, in the main, that this generation of parents have done far too much hand holding with our children and not allowed them to make mistakes and learn from them. My middle daughter, (20), is working part-time in a pharmacy whilst studying business at university. In the early days of this new job her boss, the owner of this small pharmacy, was verging on, if not completely, bullying her to the point that one afternoon, on her way home to lunch, having had a particularly rough morning of verbal abuse (suble, intimidating, nasty) – she rang me sobbing her heart out! Of course I was heart-broken for her, very angry and wanted to visit that “lady” and give her a piece of my mind. Instead I coached my daughter as best I could over the phone so that she returned to work after lunch and arranged to meet her when she had finished so that we could discuss over early dinner. I popped into the pharmacy just before it closed – gave my daughter a hug, and said I would meet her in cafe next door when she was finished. The owner obviously saw me and heard the short conversation. From that day to this – she has has treated my daughter with respect and highlights any areas that need work in a constructive manner. I have, however, coached my daughter into being a little more assertive and also to look for feedback about her work. My point is that my initial instinct was to take control of the issue (and if her treatment of my daughter had continued maybe I would have taken this route) – however I believe my daughter needed to stand on her own two feet and deal with this issue – unfortunately she may meet many such challenges over her life. Our role as parents is to encourage, support & guide our children (whatever age!) – not fight their battles! Frankly as a HR Professional my strong preference is to discuss interview feedback and/or employee issues directly with the candidate/employee themselves – not their mums! I’m with Becki on this one!

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  11. What the heck is a petit?
    Tout de suite- What???

  12. Following a Tweet from @JENeRGy/ via Twitter e Could be cus everyone still calls us KIDS? MT @DorothyDalton Helicopter parents & the #Workplace bit.ly/zuwYqR #GenY #Millennials I have changed a sub- header from kids to ” Gen Y” “. Point taken.

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