Legal Issues arise when Helicopter Parents act as Helicopter Managers

May 25, 2007

Helicopter parents may hover over their children, but what’s their management style in the workplace when it comes to other people’s kids and their peers? Phyllis Weiss Haserot on her Blog "Practice Development Counsel" posted a set of questions concerning how Helicopter Parents operate as managers in the workplace some of which are as follows:

  • Do the helicopter parents (those that hover too much and interfere) exhibit similar behavior with their juniors as they do with their children? Do they bring their parenting style to the workplace to over-protect and push their people ahead?
  • Or do they take an opposite approach and expect great results without giving the guidance and support they want for their children?
  • Are Baby Boomer managers (only some of whom are "helicopter parents") hard on younger generation workers because they are demanding the results they would like to see from their children, but without the coddling they give their kids?
  • Is it because many Boomers are so competitive and status conscious that they want everyone (children, junior people on their work teams, etc.) to make them look good?

If we assume that Helicopter Parents operate as Helicopter Managers too, what impact will that have on the workplace culture and risks of litigation?

It seems to me that the legal risks might be summarized in the following situations: 

  • Disconnect between Helicopter Management style and Generation Y:

Many Gen Y’s are products of helicopter parenting, but according to generational studies, what this generation is looking for from their employers is not the hovering attention that they got from their parents. Dr. Barbara Moses lists 12 tips on managing Gen Y’s in her article "The Challenges of managing Gen Y". These tips focus on concepts like "work-life balance", "avoiding paternalism", "self-directed" and "collegiality".

  • Lack of candid feedback

Comments to helicopter parenting usually include speculation on the damage done to adults by shielding them from disappointments during childhood. Will this translate into a helicopter manager’s unwillingness to give and/or an employee’s inability to receive constructive criticism during the evaluation process? In either case, one of the most important management tools and legal defenses is compromised.

  • Disparate treatment based on age

Anytime "generational differences" enter into a management approach, caution must be taken to avoid age discrimination. Legal concerns abound from disparities in job requirements, expectations, feedback or tolerance made between Boomers, Gen X’s, or Gen Y’s based on stereotypical generational attributes. In essence, do Helicopter Managers adopt the tactics of workplace bullies?

  • Effects of employee discontent with managers

Disconnections between managers and employees can foster perceptions of ineffective management and favoritism. Such discontent typically leads to high turnover, unionization, or litigation.