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Generation Y

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 really is a Helicopter Parent.Like an urban myth or a mystical creature out of a fairy tale, it’s hard to believe they really do exist. But now I know for certain they do.What are helicopter parents? They are the parents of Gen Ys who are actively involved in their children’s careers.

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 really is a Helicopter Parent.Like an urban myth or a mystical creature out of a fairy tale, it’s hard to believe they really do exist. But now I know for certain they do.What are helicopter parents? They are the parents of Gen Ys who are actively involved in their children’s careers. Helicopter parents are showing up at career fairs, e-mailing recruiters, and even negotiating salaries on behalf of their children.I knew this was an emerging trend, and yet it still came as a shock to me when a parent e-mailed me to inquire about giving her daughter a job at my company. The e-mail highlighted some of her daughter’s achievements, and then inquired about the best process for following up.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 generation 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 over-protective, 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.Not surprising, Ys are likely to struggle with taking initiative, thinking long-range, or delaying gratification. They want employers to replace their 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 are going to have to accept the 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 Mom and Dad. 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 really no way to escape the helicopter parent phenomenon. I don’t understand it and I certainly don’t agree with it, but it is indicative of a larger trend.Work isn’t about individuals anymore. 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 expecting 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 being 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 will 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!

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.

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