4 Things Millennials’ Parents Can Do – or not do – To Help Their Adult Children

In the last few weeks the video from author Simon Sinek’s appearance on Quest Nutrition President Tom Bilyeu’s Inside Quest on Millennials in the Workplace has made it to my inbox many, many, many times. It is great – you should watch it.

I wrote my first book Millennials & Management: Making it Work at Work out of my experience of failing miserably at retaining Millennials in my company. 100% failure in one six-month period. Before this, I’d never had even CLOSE to 100% failure in any part of my career. Actually, I had always been the manager/leader/boss people wanted to work with. And then we hired a bunch of millennials and they all left. It was a gut punch.

In reflecting on this failure and seeking input from my peers throughout the country several things became clear.

  1. Hiring millennials was not an option: a business without millennials is a business without a future;
  2. The overwhelmingly negative perception of millennials was so pervasive that even millennials hated millennials – nothing I could find was positive and I have to have a positive plan; and
  3. A new dynamic was in place that I’d never dealt with before: Millennials’ Parents. These well-meaning parents who were hampering their children’s entrance into the real world AND their performance in their jobs.

Millennials’ Parents Impact: What Does This Look Like?

What does this look like? Millennials’ parents joining their adult children at interviews; parents calling managers to lobby for better reviews or higher raises. Or parents actually doing the work for their adult children – which all unravels when the employee doesn’t have the luxury of time to participate or complete a task. All of these things – and more – are situations that I have coached teams through in the workshops and speaking I do on this topic.

In the video, which now has more than 4 million views, Sinek talks about the “failed parenting strategies” that have yielded a large cohort of young adults who are being sabotaged by their expectations. These are expectations that we – the parents, the culture, the system — have engendered.  (Now I know that not all parents are helicopter parents; however the group is large and has had a big impact.)

And the result is young adults who are not ready for the realities of work.

Forces at Play

  • Grade inflation (read more here) is the biggest disservice that has happened to smart kids in education. In the last 15 years – basically the same 15 years that have turned out millennials into the job market – the average grade point average has raised a full point. Why? Because it’s just easier to give the B+ or A- and raise the scale to give 125% than deal with students lobbying for better grades or their parents lobbying for their children to be fairly evaluated. Then B students who are used to getting As in the classroom, get into the workplace and are in disbelief the first time their work gets returned with “needs work – a lot of work” on it. It’s a tough transition from “you’re an A student” to “your entry level work isn’t ready for primetime.”
  • Everyone Wins Soccer is great for toddlers and Kindergartners (really, just their parents because ALL kids know who really scored the more) but we need to stop giving trophies for participation after age 6. Why, because it lessens the value of achievement. And our world works on achievement – everyone has a gift or two where they excel. I learned this the hard way. My older son has always been quite tall – as in have-to-add-graph-paper-to-the-chart-tall – and with athlete parents the pressure was on from us and from his friends and their parents that he would play basketball or football or soccer. He hated soccer. My Kindergartner? The tree in the background who yelled back at me “it’s not my turn mom” when I ran down the sideline to implore him to “get the ball!” That’s when I knew. He got lots of trophies – big ones – for soccer (I have the pictures to prove it) that he threw away…at 6 years old. When he found his gift – music – the competition among his peers meant something. They know. In retrospect I was glad to learn early that my helicopter blades needed to hung up – however mortifying it was at the time.
  • Independence. It’s important that our kids – and really our adult kids – learn how to maneuver in the world without us. I have two clients who now have policies that state something to the effect “no parents may attend interviews or orientation”. POLICIES. I’ll just leave that there. With phones and technology that lets us know where our children are at every moment (have you seen the car ad where the parents know their driving daughter is at their old make out location?) Kids start college and parents are texting and calling daily. No wonder so many young adults don’t feel the tether as a bad thing, but a normal dynamic.

4 Things Millennials’ Parents Can Do – Or Not Do – To Help Your Adult Children

  • Let you kids figure things out for themselves.
  • If they do poorly on a test do not call the professor.
  • If your adult child who lives at home is sick, DO NOT CALL the office for them unless they’re in the hospital.
  • And for the love of God, don’t do their work for them. Yes, this happens….one client figured out why their young employee’s work quality swung so widely when the employee forgot to cut and past the mother’s email and just forwarded it along to the manager. I’ll just leave this here.

For business, here’s the deal: we can either beat our heads against the wall or deal with the reality of where our colleagues are. It takes being willing to acknowledge that they – like you before them – have so much to offer. That they – like you – are struggling with the transition of social promotion (as my nephew likes to tell me “Cs get degrees”) to REAL performance-based advancement. That you need to set expectations about behavior you never considered early and reinforce it often. And that the advantage of having more technology in their hands than took any astronaut to the moon for at least 10 years before they enter the workforce, also has its downfalls, and needs to be managed in the workplace for all employees, not just your younger colleagues.

Millennials have so much to offer; and the companies that embrace that reality and shift to create environments where Millennials can thrive, will not only have a significant strategic advantage over their competitors, but will find that their Boomers and Xers will thrive too. Because while Boomers and Xers thrive when Millennials do, the reverse is not always true.

PS. Read Sineks’ Start With Why. It’s a great book and easy to apply.