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Managing a millennial means managing their parents, too. Photograph by Bloomberg/Getty Images
Commentary

Why millennials should take their parents to work

Boomers, if you notice an influx of strangers who look your age at the office this week, no need to worry. They’re not after your job — you may just be meeting the parents of younger employees, as Thursday is officially the 2nd Annual Take Your Parents to Work Day.

The brainchild of LinkedIn, Take Your Parents to Work Day was the result of a survey that revealed that, although nearly all parents of millennials reported tremendous pride in their children’s work, nearly half did not understand what they actually did. This created difficulty for a senior generation eager to impart their reservoir of advice based on their own careers. How can you adequately share these lessons learned if you don’t necessarily understand what your kids do at work?

As an increasing number of companies sign-up to participate, the inevitable question arises: how does the close relationship between millennials and their parents impact the workplace?

The image of hovering ‘helicopter’ parents who over-indulged and over-protected their children makes great fodder for jokes and complaints. The unfair stereotype, however, misses the importance of understanding the relationship between millennials and their parents – a relationship that has profoundly impacted how millennials are adapting to the workforce. Ultimately, such understanding should lead to greater workplace effectiveness as employers grapple with the influence of parents in the lives of their employees.

It is an influence that started very early. As a generation that grew up believing they had all the answers, Boomer parents were eager to transfer that wisdom to their children. They began their role as parental advisors while their children were still in utero; they sang, read and played music to pregnant tummies, preparing for the emergence of infants who would be prepped for their life of accomplishments even before birth.

By adolescence, many millennials had already spent years engaged in after-school resume-building activities. With so much time accounted for by lessons and teams, directed by parents as chief life-coach, millennials were molded into accomplished young adults. Millennials’ reliance on and close contact with their parents continued even through their teen years — ages when prior generations experienced far greater intergenerational tension. Today’s young adults see the process of seeking advice from their parents as a logical, well-considered opportunity to benefit from the wisdom of trusted advisors.

As millennials have entered the workplace, they continue to turn to their parents for guidance. This time, however, their parents frequently lack the observational vantage point they enjoyed when their kids were younger. Savvy employers who understand this may be more willing to help parents learn.

Today’s employers have the unique challenge of assimilating members of a generation that have grown up with a large safety net, helping them thrive in an environment that often expects risk-taking through reach assignments and problem-solving without clear direction. There is, after all, a difference between being pushed by parents along the path to success, and knowing what to do when that path must be traveled alone.

Figuring out how to navigate the workplace is critical to career success and advancement. But not all young workers arrive adept at steering their way forward. If one’s childhood environment was open, welcoming, and supportive, adapting to the demands of the workplace requires skills that may not yet be fully developed. Employers focused on their future leadership pool will invest in a variety of ways to integrate their young employees into the culture of the workplace, providing them with opportunities to better understand the employer’s goals and objectives.

Employers who move beyond the stereotypes to understand both the positive and negative aspects of millennials’ relationships with their parents are best positioned to develop thriving future leaders.

Welcoming mom and dad for a peek into the daily life of their adult child at work provides an opportunity for employers to positively acknowledge that bond. It also recognizes that parents are likely to remain an important source of ongoing support in their employees’ lives.

Lauren Stiller Rikleen, the author of You Raised Us – Now Work With Us: Millennials, Career Success, and Building Strong Workplace Teams, is the president of the Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership and Executive-in-Residence at the Boston College Center for Work & Family.

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