How Small Business Owners Can Manage Employees Who Had Helicopter Parents

Oct 15–21 is BDC Small Business Week, sponsored by the Business Development Bank of Canada, which the organizers call “a national celebration of Canadian entrepreneurs and their contribution to Canada’s economy.” This is significant because according to BDC’s stats, “99.7% of all Canadian businesses are small and medium-sized.”

These are the businesses that drive our Canadian economy and for their owners, growth is a major goal. For this reason, hiring and retaining good staff and ensuring maximum productivity are critical. Lately, one type of employee has been making it harder to achieve these aims.

More and more young people are entering the marketplace ill-equipped to function optimally at their jobs. These are young people who’ve grown up with helicopter parents who coddled them, did too much for them and left them lacking both in confidence and in the basic attitudes, skills and habits necessary for success.

Interestingly, most of these young people grew up in well-to-do families. They present well at interviews and have a strong sense of entitlement that can mimic self-confidence and motivation. A hiring manager might think that they’re getting a prime candidate; that is, until the problems begin.

For every small-business owner, it’s essential to identify the problematic new employee as soon as possible, in order to let them go (if it’s within their probationary period) or engage in remediation.

For many small businesses, it can be prohibitively costly to rehire and retrain staff. For these businesses, even if the problems are discovered during the probation period, managers will want to correct the behaviours rather than let the employee go.

If you’re a small business owner, there are six questions you can ask to identify the behaviours of young people who grew up with helicopter parents. These are:

1: Do these young people appear self-centered and over-entitled? Are they unable to see the big picture and do they complain about workplace expectations while expecting preferential treatment?

2: Do they consistently try to get their colleagues to do their work for them, even when they have the required skills? Do they misunderstand the meaning of teamwork, expecting to be taken care of or rescued as opposed to working together for a common goal?

3: Are they consistently late for work or for meetings, and/or do they take too many breaks and too many days off? In other words, do they not respect these basic expectations?

4: Do they behave in a disrespectful manner to colleagues and supervisors? Do they come across as rude or exploitative toward their co-workers or treat their supervisors with a lack of deference?

5: Do they leave a mess everywhere they go? Is their desk or cubicle a shambles? Do they fail to clean up after themselves at the coffee station or in the break room?

6: Do their parents call the boss or show up at the workplace to speak to a manager on behalf of their child?

If you’ve answered “yes” to one or more of the above questions, you may have a product of helicopter parenting on your staff. Even if you don’t have a HR department devoted to dealing with these issues, there is a way that you can improve the situation and achieve your workplace goals.

1: First, identify your most emotionally intelligent managers to be the de-facto mentors for these young people. These would be the managers with the best interpersonal skills, levels of empathy and social awareness.

Using criteria from the work of psychologist Daniel Goleman, for example, you’ll be able to recognize who these emotionally intelligent individuals are. If the company has fifty employees, you’ll probably need about four or five of these mentors.

Mentors help employees integrate into the workplace by clarifying the workplace culture and expectations. Mentors can identify the struggling employees, help them succeed and prevent them from falling through the cracks. They enable everyone do their best.

2: Bring in a coach to train these managers to become mentors who are supportive, firm and crystal-clear in their dealings with these young people. Mentors can be matched with new hires and keep an eye on their performance during their first few months on the job.

3: If a new employee is struggling with interpersonal relationships, the mentor can outline the appropriate attitudes, expectations and behaviours toward colleagues and supervisors, including the need for respect and an appreciation of workplace boundaries.

The mentor could explain that the boss is not a parent or a pal and shouldn’t be addressed as either one. They should point out that colleagues have their own tasks to attend to and aren’t there to rescue the young person from challenges at work.

4: If the young person is struggling with lateness or too much time away from work, the mentor can go over what’s expected of the employee and why. They can point out that coming in and leaving on time, showing up every day, and taking appropriate-length breaks is a sign of respect, demonstrates commitment and maintains workplace morale.

5: If the employee is struggling with any of their work tasks, the mentor can break down and clarify the tasks and help the employee develop good work habits that will set them up for long-term success.

6: If the employee is having problems with managing their environment, the mentor can educate them about the importance of tidiness and personal responsibility, and how they can’t expect anyone at work to clean up after them.

7: If the employee’s parents are calling or dropping by to try and talk with the boss, the mentor should train this person to advocate for him or herself, without help from their parents.

As a small business owner, the investment you make in training these mentors will pay off for years to come. You’ll be able to retain staff and get the best work out of them, while keeping up workplace morale and productivity. In this way, you create a win-win.

Sign up here for my free monthly wellness newsletter. November is all about developing self-compassion.

Check out my latest podcast. Julie Lythcott-Haims discusses how we became helicopter parents and how to switch gears and give kids what they need to grow up into high-functioning adults.



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Marcia Sirota

Writer, speaker, MD, and author of the Short & Sweet Guides to Life book series