Book a Speaker
Grow Membership
Reduce Turnover
XYZ University YouTube Page LogoXYZ University Instagram Page LogoXYZ University LinkedIn Page LogoXYZ University Twitter Page LogoXYZ University Facebook Page LogoXYZ University Vimeo LogoXYZ University RSS Feed Logo
Generation Y
Talent Development

How Helicopter Parents Changed the Workforce

It’s back to school time, and as you prep your little darlings for another year of education, take some time to reflect on your own school experiences.

It’s back to school time, and as you prep your little darlings for another year of education, take some time to reflect on your own school experiences.

Chances are, if you were born before 1982, you walked to school (up hill both ways), ate mystery meat in the cafeteria, suffered through bullying, and wrote letters to pen pals with a No. 2 pencil – in cursive, of course!

But if you were born in 1982 or later, you were part of the most protected and supervised generation in history. The Millennials. Gen Y. Which means you were probably shuttled to school and countless other activities in a car seat, never ate in a school cafeteria that served peanut butter, received trophies for participating, and used technology to learn. (Thank goodness for spellcheck! LOL.)

Yes, school was different and so was parenting. Before 1982, children spent a great deal of time without adult supervision. Since1982, children have spent a great deal of time with adult supervision.

In 1982, the child-rearing pendulum shifted from independence, freedom, and using your imagination to one of structure and scheduled activities focused on almost constant learning and achievement. And parents started giving up their free time to focus almost entirely on their children’s lives and activities.

As the Millennials become the majority of the workforce, we’re beginning to understand how ‘Helicopter Parenting’ influenced this generation’s expectations of work and leadership.

If you’re feeling annoyed by your Millennial co-worker’s need for constant feedback or sense of entitlement, consider this:

  • Generation Y doesn’t understand hierarchy. This isn’t a generation whose parents told them to ‘be seen but not heard’. They’ve always been asked to share their opinions on just about everything. Not only that, but their parents actually acted on their opinions. Repeatedly. As a result, this generation often struggles with working in a hierarchical environment or being part of an organization where leadership and opportunity is reserved only for those with the most years of experience.
  • Generation Y wants to be inspired. They have never known a time when the boss reigned supreme and had all the answers. That’s the stuff of myths and legends to this generation because the Internet has always provided them instant answers and access to experts on any subject. The way they look at leaders is different than other generations and ever more situational. Their most important criteria are following a leader who will ‘walk the talk’ and derive authority from having a genuine, inspiring sense of purpose.
  • Generation Y wants a relationship. This generation spent childhood and adolescence in close proximity to their parents, which usually resulted in having a close relationship with them. Not surprising, they expect to have great relationships with the people they work with — including access to and relationship-building opportunities with their managers. Gen Y tends to look up to and be loyal to the leaders that foster a relationship with them and exemplify their values for innovation, transparency, and making a difference.

To this young majority, a great leader is thought of more as a person devoted to a cause than as an executive running a business.

To them, the best leaders won’t have all the answers, be trustworthy, visionary, open to collaboration, and capable of lighting the spark that motivates others.

After all, this is the kind of leadership the Millennials have always known. This is the kind of leadership they were taught.

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

More posts by this author

Take the first step towards your future.

Looking for a game changer at your next event or a strategy unique to your organization?