Around the Nation
3:10 pm
Mon February 6, 2012

Helicopter Parents Hover In The Workplace

Originally published on Mon February 6, 2012 6:33 pm

So-called helicopter parents first made headlines on college campuses a few years ago, when they began trying to direct everything from their children's course schedules to which roommate they were assigned.

With millennial children now in their 20s, more helicopter parents are showing up in the workplace, sometimes even phoning human resources managers to advocate on their child's behalf.

Megan Huffnagle, a former human resources manager at a Denver theme park, recalls being shocked several years ago when she received a call from a young job applicant's mother.

"An employee was hired as an IT intern, and the parent called and proceeded to tell me how talented her son was, and how he deserved much more [compensation], and that he could make much more money outside of this position," Huffnagle says.

Despite the pressure, Huffnagle stood firm, and the young man ultimately accepted the job. But the new employee was embarrassed by his mother's phone call, Huffnagle says. "I think there was a little bit of the roll of the eyes and a bit of a blush," she recalls.

Margaret Fiester of the Society for Human Resource Management, or SHRM, says when it comes to parents acting as lobbyists, she's heard it all — from parents calling to negotiate better salaries or vacation time for their kids to complaining when their child isn't hired. "Surely you've overlooked these wonderful qualities that my child has," Fiester says parents often tell her.

Michigan State University surveyed more than 700 employers seeking to hire recent college graduates. Nearly one-third said parents had submitted resumes on their child's behalf, some without even informing the child. One-quarter reported hearing from parents urging the employer to hire their son or daughter for a position. Four percent of respondents reported that a parent actually showed up for the candidate's job interview.

Those types of interventions can backfire, says Feister. "It definitely does not show great leadership or decision-making skills," she says.

Feister says SHRM advises its members that talking to a parent about issues like salary or benefits does not necessarily violate an employee's privacy. On the other hand, she says, it's perfectly legitimate for a company have a policy of speaking only with the employee or prospective employee.

'Get The Parents On Your Side'

If some observers are troubled by this trend, others are urging businesses to accept it.

"You don't want to block the energy of the parent," says Neil Howe, who studies and consults on generational trends for the company LifeCourse Associates. "It's like jujitsu. You just want to channel it in a certain direction."

Howe says boomers are incredibly close to their children, and in his opinion, that's a good thing.

Besides, Howe says, there's little point in resisting engaged parents. School teachers initially tried to push back against helicopter parents a decade ago, Howe notes, but ultimately learned it was counterproductive.

"Every time a teacher [resisted], that parent, who was so attached to their kid, would become that teacher's worst enemy," Howe says.

Today, Howe says, many schools now reach out proactively to parents, going so far as to offer online homework programs that allow parents to monitor a child's progress. Colleges have also adapted, he notes, some even creating an Office of Parent Relations.

Howe says working with engaged parents is often the better approach. "Maybe you can make the parents allies," he says.

"The kids are calling them; they may be living with them; they're relying on the parents for their advice. Why don't you get the parents on your side?"

More Companies Adapting

That's exactly what the car rental company Enterprise Holdings aims to do, says Marie Artim, vice president for Talent Acquisition.

Parents are "an influencer," Artim says. "So if they feel more comfortable that it's a solid, stable, growing company with a lot of opportunities, and a good culture and people who care, they're going to feel better about encouraging their son or daughter to consider it."

To that end, Enterprise is happy to send parents the same recruitment packages it sends their children. And when Enterprise interns present their final projects and are considering full-time positions, parents are invited in.

Other companies have even organized a "Take Your Parent to Work" day, to give moms and dads a peek at what child does at the office.

But like many employers, Enterprise does not allow parents to sit in on job interviews. And when a parent shows up at a college career fair to hand out a child's resume? Artim offers a gentle but firm message.

"While we appreciate what you're trying to do," she says, "actually your son [or daughter] would be much better off by showing the initiative, and focusing and committing to their career search themselves."

A solid job hunting tip for both generations.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now, a dispatch from the world that is overseen by so-called helicopter parents. They are moms and dads who hover over their kids, micro-managing their lives, and they're a growing phenomenon of the current age. Their well-coddled kids turned up at colleges a few years back, and now their kids are in their 20s and heading into the workplace.

As NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports, companies are taking notice.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Megan Huffnagle was shocked. She was the human resources manager at a theme park in Denver a few years ago.

MEGAN HUFFNAGLE: An employee was hired as an IT intern. And the parent called and proceeded to tell me how talented her son was and how he deserved much more, and that he could make much more money outside of this position.

LUDDEN: Huffnagle stood firm, and the 20-something man accepted the job, whereupon his manager asked, what's up with your mom?

HUFFNAGLE: I think there was a little bit of the roll of the eyes and a bit of a blush.

LUDDEN: It turns out such parental meddling is pretty common these days. Margaret Fiester is with the Society for Human Resource Management, and she's heard it all - parents calling to negotiate benefits.

MARGARET FIESTER: Can I get a better package? Can you offer maybe a little bit more vacation?

LUDDEN: Complaining when their child isn't hired.

FIESTER: Surely, you've overlooked these wonderful qualities, you know, that my child has.

LUDDEN: Michigan State University surveyed more than 700 employers looking to hire recent college grads. A third said parents had submitted resumes on their child's behalf, some without even telling the child. Four percent had parents actually show up for the job interview. Fiester says that can backfire.

FIESTER: It definitely does not show great leadership or decision-making skills.

LUDDEN: Still, if some are troubled by this trend, others are urging businesses to accept it and work with it.

NEIL HOWE: You don't want to block the energy of the parent. It's like jujitsu. You just want to channel it in a certain direction.

LUDDEN: Neil Howe studies and consults on generational trends. He says boomers are just incredibly close to their children and, really, that's a good thing. Besides, he says, it's no use resisting. He points to a decade and more ago when K through 12 teachers encountering helicopter parents tried to push back.

HOWE: I'm the professional, get out of here. Right? Well, we all know what happened with that, right? Every time a teacher did that, that parent who was so attached to their kid would become that teacher's worst enemy.

LUDDEN: And who lost that battle? Well, look at how schools now reach out proactively and have online homework programs so parents can monitor child's work day by day.

Some colleges have dealt with attached parents by creating an office of parent relations. Neil Howe's advice to employers.

HOWE: Maybe you can make the parents allies. Their kids are calling them. They may be living with them. They're relying on the parents for their advice. Why don't you get the parents on your side?

LUDDEN: That's exactly what Enterprise Holdings, the car rental company, aims to do. Marie Artim is vice president for talent acquisition.

MARIE ARTIM: They're an influencer. So, if they feel more comfortable that it's a solid, stable, growing company with a lot of opportunities and a good culture and people who care, they're going to feel better about encouraging their son or daughter to consider it.

LUDDEN: To that end, Enterprise is happy to send parents the same recruitment packages it sends their children. And when Enterprise interns present their final projects and are considering a full-time position, parents are invited in.

Other companies have even organized a Take Your Parent to Work Day to give moms and dads a peek at what their special someone does. But, like many places, Enterprise does not allow parents to sit in on job interviews. And when one shows up at a college career fair to hand out a child's resume and talk them up, Artim offers a gentle but firm message.

ARTIM: While we appreciate what you're trying to do, your son would be much better off by showing the initiative and focusing and committing to their career search themselves.

LUDDEN: A job hunting tip for both generations.

Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.