'Helicopter parent' progeny in the workplace

Andrea Murad By Andrea Murad, CA Today

13 June 2018

The children of ‘helicopter parents’ are now at large in the workforce – will it require a change to everyday working practices?

Have you ever had an employee’s mother, father or guardian call to talk about the interview you just had with their child? Or, maybe they want to talk to you about a recent review that was less than stellar.

While that call is most definitely unexpected, helicopter parents, snowplough parents or any overprotective parent who tries to clear their child’s path of any obstacles, know no bounds.

In a 2015 study conducted by Robert Half, of those Americans and Canadians aged 18 to 25 (comprising Gen Z) who were surveyed, 82% said that their parents or guardians would influence their career choices after graduation.

In 2016, Michigan State University surveyed over 700 employers potentially recruiting college graduates. Alarmingly, just over 30% of respondents noted that parents had completed application forms or resumes for their child, and indeed 4% stated a parent showed up for the interview. Around 25% were called by a parent to ensure their child was hired.

Do you work with the child of a helicopter parent?

Identifying the children of helicopter parents as current and potential employees isn’t always easy. Sometimes their parents call or show up, "and in other cases, during an interview, sometimes the candidate will allude to their mom or dad excessively," said career expert Vicki Salemi.

Less obvious flags are an employee who isn’t an independent thinker, who constantly seeks approval or who is unable to make a decision, whether good or bad.

"They don't always end up being really bad hires, but there's an additional effort involved in orientation and assimilation to work with them to wean them off helicopter parents, so they become more independent,” she said. “They need to be micromanaged in terms of outlining what's needed in this position to be successful."

Your company likely doesn’t award participation medals or boost employee self-esteem for mediocrity, and these employees may feel they're entitled to job offers, promotions, responsibility and raises - just because.

Hiring new staff is expensive, but there are ways to help that employee show up and succeed without their parent.

Tips on how to develop the child of a helicopter parent

Identify that employee

They may present themselves as self-confident and motivated, but the problems begin when they’re unable to complete tasks, pass work onto colleagues, always show up late or not at all, are disrespectful, or leave a mess wherever they go.

In the worst case, their parents show up at work or call a higher up. When you identify the problems, if it’s within the probationary period, you can let them go or put that employee on a remediation plan.

This employee will likely require retraining, which is costly and time-consuming, and retraining may or may not be an option depending on your available resources.

Assign a mentor

Look for a colleague with a high level of emotional intelligence, empathy and social awareness to mentor this employee. This person can work with the employee to help them understand the corporate culture and how to succeed without the help of their parents.

Consider having a coach work with mentors so that they have the proper tools to help this junior employee succeed.

Develop a clear action plan

Patience and compassion, combined with assertiveness and strict boundaries, are key people skills for helping an employee along. Create a very simple outline for what’s required to be timely, to manage their environment and to complete their tasks.

Implement a reinforcement system so that progress is noticed and praised - shaping the employee’s behaviour is important so that these attributes become the norm.

Don’t embrace the parent

Parents who are too involved are really coming from a place of love and support, but this can hinder a workplace. 'Bring Your Parent to Work' days might be helpful, but these aren’t the same as meeting an employee’s partner or spouse.

Help the employee set boundaries that their parents can’t just show up at the office. For those parents who call incessantly, remind them that the job offer is between the employer and the employee, and not a third-party like a parent.

Outline expectations

Interpersonal relationships can be a struggle for a child of a helicopter parent. Whether they expect someone else to do their work or have issues resolving conflicts, no matter how small, explaining what’s appropriate and the expectations of the position can help to set boundaries.

Their colleagues have their own responsibilities to focus on and may not have the time to constantly rescue a struggling employee.

Emphasize timeliness

It’s true that 80% of life IS just showing up. An employee who consistently comes to work late and can’t keep to their schedule may need help understanding the commitment to the job.

Teach how to advocate

Your employee needs to set boundaries so that their home and work environments don’t interact. This person needs to see that their boss doesn’t involve a parent and vice versa. A mentor should work with the employee to teach them how to advocate for themselves so that they are able to be successful on their own and because of their hard work.

If a parent calls in sick for their child, for example, encourage your employee to set boundaries and explain that a call from a parent isn’t commonplace and if anything, it’s embarrassing.

About the author

Andrea Murad is a New York–based writer. Having worked on both Wall Street and Main Street, she now pursues her passion for words. She covers business and finance, and her work can be found on BBC Capital, Consumers Digest, Entrepreneur.comFOXBusiness.com, Global Finance and InstitutionalInvestor.com.


  • Business
  • North America

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