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Your Parents Don't Belong in Your Workplace

Alison Green

If you hoped that the helicopter parenting trend was on the wane, you won't be happy to learn that last week LinkedIn launched Bring In Your Parents Day, an initiative to encourage workers to bring their parents to the office to give them "a glimpse into where their kids work." According to the event's official website, LinkedIn created the event because too many parents don't understand what their kid does at work and wish they could learn more.

But while the company no doubt sees the event as a way to better integrate young employees into the workforce, it's a bad move for this generation of workers.

We already know that today's 20-somethings had - as a group - more parental involvement when they were growing up than any other generation in recent history, from parents micromanaging their kids' social lives to calling their colleges to complain about noisy roommates. This generation also delays launching their careers longer, lives at home longer and is more financially dependent on their parents than what we've seen previously. But once they enter the workforce, it's in their best interests to become independent, self-reliant professionals - after all, if not now, then when?

But it's going to be that much harder to do if employers reinforce the idea that parental involvement should continue into this stage of young workers lives too.

Now, certainly there's nothing wrong with companies allowing employees to bring a parent by the office in a more informal way, just like an employee might have any other visitor stop by because he or she is in the area or because the employee and his or her visitor are heading to lunch together. But creating entire programs around employees' parents sends all the wrong signals.

First and foremost, this type of program tells younger employees that their employer doesn't see them as fully independent adults, untethered from their parents - or assumes that they don't see themselves that way. (To be clear, fully independent adults can and do choose to talk about work-related topics with their parents all the time - but they don't require an employer-planned event to do that.)

Since it's highly unlikely that 50-something employees are bringing their parents to these events, it's clear that it's targeting millennials, and that it's based on the belief that this generation of workers still finds it appropriate to create the type of parent-focused programs that they had in college and grade school.

When employers coddle younger employees like this, what does this mean for how they negotiate raises, give feedback, delegate work and otherwise interact with them? Are these employees going to get adult raises, adult assignments and adult feedback, or will they be condescended to there are well?

And if you think that's an overreaction, the Wall Street Journal reported recently on one company that calls or sends notes to parents when interns achieve their sales goals and another that lets parents listen in when managers describe the details of job offers.

While these bizarre initiatives are limited to a small number of companies, it's troubling that it's happening at all and that the media is reporting on it as anything other than a cautionary tale about the dysfunction that arises when adulthood is delayed later and later.

It's great for parents to coach their kids behind the scenes if the kids want it, but 20-somethings should be entering the workplace as the adults they are, which means interacting with their employers in the same way that other mature adults do.

Parents who get overly involved in their grown kids' professional lives and the employers who cater to them are performing a disservice, and are making it tougher for young workers to fully inhabit their new identities as independent, self-sufficient adults. They're denying them the opportunity to stand on their own, advocate for themselves, make their own mistakes and to be seen as competent, thoughtful, mature professionals

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues.

She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

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