Take Mom and Dad to Work: Is This Helicopter Parenting Gone Mad?

LinkedIn concept takes off at other companies

Dana Wilkie By Dana Wilkie January 18, 2019
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​Perhaps a decade ago, it might have been unthinkable that a mother would show up at her grown son's workplace and hang out for the day, hovering around his desk, sitting in on his presentations, meeting his managers, asking questions about his duties.

Now there's a day devoted to this practice: It's called "Take Your Parents to Work Day," a LinkedIn idea that has taken root at other organizations.

"There's been a day dedicated to bringing your kids to work for a while," said Brandi Britton, district president of OfficeTeam, an administrative staffing firm based in Menlo Park, Calif. "Taking your parents to work flips that concept and looks at it from the other perspective. Many parents have been involved in their children's personal and professional lives for years, so it's a tremendous source of pride to be able to see their son or daughter excelling at their job."

Is this helicopter parenting gone mad?

LinkedIn Brainchild

In 2013, LinkedIn, the career-focused social network, designated Nov. 4 of each year as Bring Your Parents to Work Day to introduce moms and dads to what their daughters or sons do for a living. One in 3 parents don't understand what their grown children do at work, according to a study that LinkedIn commissioned. That's especially true, Britton said, if their kids hold job titles that did not exist when the parents were younger. Other companies caught on. This past November, organizations including HubSpot, British Airways and the Virgin Group asked workers to invite their parents to the workplace. Some companies set up photo booths, put out buffets, offered wine, and coordinated introductions between parents and staff. Others had department heads talk about their teams and what work they do at the company and conduct Q&A sessions.

"It is commonplace today for parents to insert themselves in support of their young and not-so-young adult children, even in the most adult spheres like the workplace, where such involvement would have been considered totally inappropriate in the past," said Bruce Tulgan, founder of RainmakerThinking, a management research, training and consulting firm in New Haven, Conn. "But remember, this is nothing new for Millennials. Their parents have always been highly engaged with them. Every step of the way, they have been guided, directed, supported, coached and protected. Unlike previous generations, they don't express much desire to break free as they reach adulthood."

Interestingly, though, LinkedIn found that workers of all ages—not just Millennials—have invited their parents to visit the workplace.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Developing and Sustaining Employee Engagement]

What Could Go Wrong?

There may be pros and cons to having parents hang around a child's workplace, Tulgan and Britton said. 

For one thing, it could be "potentially infantilizing for the young worker," Tulgan said. Moreover, parents may be inappropriately exposed to confidential information or processes if a company doesn't take precautions.

And if parents aren't impressed with the workplace, they "may well encourage the young employee to look for other employment," he said.

Finally, Tulgan said, "managers may say, 'This is an outrage; I shouldn't have to deal with their parents at all.' "

Britton said there's always the possibility that parents won't respect boundaries when they're visiting. "For example, if a parent exhibits negative behavior or shares embarrassing childhood stories," she said, "it could leave others with a less-favorable impression of the worker."

But, Tulgan said, parents who understand and appreciate an adult child's workplace might "function as de facto retention officers, encouraging the young person to stay with the job, to the extent that the parents like what they see on the job.

"Parents are so important to second-wave Millennials and Generation Z," he said. "They are so close to their parents. Their parents are often their best friends and closest advisers. You can't fight the overparenting phenomenon, so run with it. Your Millennial employees want it. They need it. [If there is no] strong management in the workplace, there is a void where their parents have always been."

[Visit SHRM's resource page on organizational culture.] 

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