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Welcome To Parenthood: Managing Gen Y

I’ve read about it and listened to business executives gripe about it, but I’ve never experienced it myself until now. Yes, Virginia. There is a Helicopter Parent. Like an urban myth or a mythical creature out of a fairy tale, it’s hard to believe they do exist. But now I know for sure they do. What are helicopter parents? They are the parents of Gen Ys who are actively involved in their children’s careers.

Helicopter parents show up at career fairs, email recruiters, and even negotiate salaries for their children.

I knew this was an emerging trend, yet it still shocked me when a parent emailed me to inquire about giving her daughter a job at my company.

The e-mail highlighted some of her daughter’s achievements and inquired about the best follow-up process.

At first, I laughed. And then I became frustrated. Why on earth would a twenty-something allow her mother to do her job hunting for her? What does that say about her initiative and ability, not to mention her people skills?

And if helicopter parents are prevalent in today’s workforce, what does that say about our future employees? Will they be able to take the lead and make decisions without the guidance of their parents?

The fact is, Gen Ys are the most protected, provided for generations in history. They are the first generation to grow up with seatbelts, car seats, and Amber alerts, and they have never eaten in a cafeteria that serves peanut butter.

Raised by overprotective, competitive Boomers, they were also the first generation to be raised with structured playdates, organized athletics and activities at an early age, ‘time outs’ instead of spanking, rewards for participation instead of achievement, and credit cards.

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Not surprisingly, Ys are likely to struggle with taking the initiative, thinking long-range, or delaying gratification. They want employers to replace helicopter parents by helping them chart a course for their career path, giving them projects with detailed instructions and frequent feedback, and continually overseeing their progress.

This is in sharp contrast to every generation that has preceded the Ys – especially the Xers, like me, who were raised to be self-sufficient and prefer autonomy.

Despite this need for hand-holding, Gen Ys are usually high achievers with high expectations of themselves. They aim to work faster and better than other workers. They are exceptional multi-taskers, technologically fluent, and adaptable to change. They continually seek out challenges and more responsibility and view colleagues as vast resources from whom to gain knowledge.

Like it or not, employers will have to accept helicopter parents as part of the recruiting package.

Why kowtow to such silliness? Because in the next few years, the vast majority of companies will face a significant talent shortage, and they will have no choice but to bring Ys into the fold. Of course, making efforts to understand them now rather than later is the best approach to long-term sustainability.

Some companies have already learned that attracting young talent starts with positive recommendations from Moms and Dads. These companies have started openly courting parents, hosting information sessions for parents or a parents’ day for interns’ families, and creating a web page for parents on the recruiting website.

There’s no way to escape the helicopter parent phenomenon. I don’t understand it and disagree with it, but it is indicative of a larger trend.

Work isn’t about individuals any more. It’s about family. The Xers introduced the concept of balance into the workforce, demanding flex-time and family-friendly benefits. They left the workforce to raise children and started their own companies when their employers didn’t provide the flexibility they wanted.

USA Today gave Generation X the esteemed title of the Family First Generation, and the Ys are following suit. Surveys of Ys already in the workforce reveal that family is equally – if not more – important to them. We’re already observing this with the helicopter parent phenomenon and the fact that Ys are ‘chummy’ with their parents, not overly anxious to fly the coop after graduating from college, and willing to live at home well into their late twenties.

Furthermore, once they start to marry, Gen Y men and women are expected to share the child-rearing and work responsibilities evenly. Employers can expect more demands from this generation for on-site childcare and part-time, flex-time, and telecommuting options, as well as more men leaving the workforce to become stay-at-home dads.

So while I loathe the helicopter parent concept, I realize this is yet another way that Generations X and Y have changed the workforce.

The Xers were the first to refuse to be married to their work and demanded flexible work environments.

I think the legacy of the Ys will be their demands to be parented by their employers. They expect employers to replicate their structured childhoods, providing them with detailed direction, ample opportunities and frequent feedback, and mentoring to help them climb the ladder to success.

Like it or not, your company’s ability to manage the Ys (on their terms) is critical to its future success.Welcome to parenthood!

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