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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.

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.

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