HR’s Response to the Helicopter Parent

May 16, 2007

Imagine that your company has decided to make a job offer to a very promising Ivy League MBA candidate. You call the candidate to communicate your company’s very generous offer and what’s the response?

"My mom will call you back to negotiate my compensation package". Welcome to your first encounter with a "Helicopter Parent". For the moment, let’s leave aside the issue of whether this level of parenting does more harm than good and focus on the issue as framed by Stephanie Armour in her recent USA TODAY article:

Employers are finding that parents are increasingly involved in their children’s job choices, as "helicopter parenting" extends to the workplace.

As Generation Y enters the job force, parents of new hires are calling employers to negotiate salary and benefits, and some are even showing up at job fairs. It’s a new dynamic that has some employers responding by training recruiters and managers how to handle "helicopter parents," who hover over their children’s lives.

Here are some considerations that I think are worth evaluating in anticipation of Mom or Dad’s call:

  • Temper your Gut Reaction: The almost universal reaction of most Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers to this scenario is shock and aghast. How can this seemingly bright candidate allow parents to run his or her life? However, this is a value judgment that ignores the sociological and demographic facts. The real questions are: Do you want the candidate or not? Are you willing to negotiate under these terms?
  •  Balance the Pushback: Hey why not? Professional athletes and Hollywood stars, have agents do their negotiations and no one considers that a poor reflection on their future job performance. Evaluate whether parental involvement at the recruiting stage is really indicative of an inability to perform in the job. Obviously, these three-way conversations will have to stop once the candidate becomes an employee because that truly relates to job performance.
  • Consider the Sociology: Generation Y also called the Millennials has already been labeled with there own set of workplace attitudes which may not respond well to the traditional recruiting model. Gen Y’ers collaborative relationship with others including their parents may make others a natural part of their decision making process. But where does it stop? Certainly parents cannot become an ongoing collaborator in workplace performance and personnel issues. Undoubtedly taking a cue from the academic world ,which is ahead of the curve on this one, would be appropriate. Academia’s approach has been to develop a hard line in keeping parents out of the classroom.
  • Recognize the Demographics: Following the acclimation of Gen-X’ers into the workforce, demographics have become a worthy consideration for HR professionals in sculpting corporate culture. The challenge becomes integrating the next generation of Helicopter Parents and Boomerang Kids. As noted by Carolyn Tang in her article "The Great Divide":

Traditional suit-and-tie Baby Boomers are interacting with denim-clad colleagues from both Generations X and Y. Disparities in career expectations and attitudes between the old guard and the new are causing subtle, yet significant shifts in corporate culture and the working environment. And perhaps some tension as well.

So what’s the recommendation on HR’s approach to helicopter parenting?

First set boundaries with the candidate. Acknowledge the benefit of collaborative decision making but define the limitations for parental involvement in the workplace. Express clearly that you will provide information to the parent about the job and the company, but the "negotiations" must be with the candidate. Also consider expressing the sentiment that the company expects its employees to be independent thinkers and problem solvers.

Then enter the world of collaborative recruiting by making a call to the parent. Start the conversation by setting the parameters for parental involvement now and in the future. Make clear that the call is information and the candidate must do the negotiations. Be emphatic that, if the candidate becomes an employee of the company, the parent will not be able to be a part of work communications which will be only with the employee. Remember, you will get a call from the parent some time in the future and you will need to remind them about this conversation.

Obviously opinions on this subject are varied. For a very interesting reaction to the Helicopter Parent phenomena, check out the comments to "Helicopter parents hover when kids job hunt" or let us know about your encounters and opinions by posting a comment.