Hovering Helicopter Parents Land in Workplace

Helicopter parents are back in the news.  Worse, they’re back in the workplace (or maybe they never really went away but since no one was hiring, their hovering didn’t matter.)

Many hoped that high unemployment rates would make helicopter parents irrelevant.  Tough economic times would smack down the parents and stop them from meddling in their children’s lives. That apparently was wishful thinking.

Helicopter Parents Free Download
Image Source: Bostonia, Illustration by Zohar Lazar

For those readers who think that a helicopter parent is an action figure from the “Transformers” series, you are wrong.  A helicopter parent is “a parent who pays extremely close attention to his or her child’s or children’s experiences and problems.”  Once confined to ball games and educational environments, helicopter parents are now entering the workplace. Helicopter parents are so named because, like helicopters, they hover closely, rarely out of reach, whether their children need them or not.

As pre-teens and adolescents, these Millennial parents were viewed as caring guardians, doing what was expected of a parent – getting involved in their children’s lives.  Parents of children born between 1980 and 2000 have been obsessive about ensuring the safety of their children. Graduation from high school and college apparently hasn’t constrained their intervention.

When the first wave was born in the early 1980s, “Baby on Board” signs began popping up on minivans. They were buckled into child-safety seats, fitted with bike helmets, carpooled to numerous after-school activities. These kids, now our newest generation of employees, are confident, achievement-oriented and used to hovering “helicopter” parents keeping tabs on their every move.

Helicopter parents are now crossing the line from being involved with their children’s employment to actually running the show for them. Remember the big-mouth parent at Little League? That was nothing. Parents of Millennials are continuing the intense oversight this generation has been known for all along: challenging poor grades, negotiating with coaches and helping kids register for college. Over-involved parents meddle in college registration and interfere with students’ dealings with professors, administrators and roommates. Students who get frustrated or confused during registration have been known to interrupt their advisers to whip out a cell phone, speed-dial their parents and hand the phone to the adviser, saying, “Here, talk to my mom.”

Now helicopter parents are going to work. Managers are getting phone calls from parents asking them to hire their 20-something kids. Candidates are stalling on job offers to consult with their parents. Parents are calling hiring managers to negotiate pay packages.

How prevalent is the helicopter parent? It depends.  According to a study at the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University, employers are most likely to feel the whoosh of the hovering parent at larger companies.  For employers with fewer than 60 employers, your chances are 12 percent.  But the number doubles for companies with 61 to 350 employees and nearly triples for over 3,600 employees.  By the way, these brushes with helicopter parents weren’t casual conversations as the study categorized these engagements as “heavy parental contact.”

**** Are You A Helicopter Parent? Take This Quiz! ****

There was a significant difference in parental involvement based on the type of jobs.

Employers looking to fill positions that require a business background (specifically marketing, finance, hospitality, human resources, ecommerce, business services and sales) saw higher levels of parent involvement. Those seeking to fill engineering, computer and design media, research, scientific and consulting management positions reported the least involvement from parents.

You might be wondering in what activities do these helicopter parents actually engage. The most common activity was parents obtaining information on the company, with or without the knowledge of the child. Four of every ten employers reported this activity.  Thirty-one percent reported submitting a resume on their child’s behalf, while twenty-six percent promoted the son/daughter for the position.

The intervention doesn’t stop at clearing the path to the job either. Fifteen percent of employers complained to the company if their child was not hired. And nearly one out of ten negotiated salary and benefits.

The list didn’t stop there.  Other incidents that weren’t surveyed but added by employers were:

• Helping their son or daughter complete work assignments so that deadlines are not missed; or reviewing work and making improvements in its quality.

• When being reprimanded or disciplined, the employee refused to meet with or respond to the supervisor before talking with his or her parents.

I personally have heard additional stories from clients and other employers that parents have called when a performance review was not provided promptly and/or if the review was not favorable.

The knee-jerk reaction by many employers to helicopter parents is to eliminate Lil Johnny from consideration.  Unfortunately that response might be cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Skilled knowledge workers are in short supply and the line to your business is shrinking further as the economy picks up and competition for talent gets stiffer.  Many of the employees that fit your job requirements have helicopter parents hovering around them.  By eliminating a Millennial candidate who arrives at the interview with his or her parent, you are shrinking the qualified pool of talent.

In today’s job market, is that really a good idea?

What’s your experience been with helicopter parents? How have you responded to and worked with hovering parents of candidates and employees?


Ira S Wolfe


  1. […] 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. […]