Last spring, Danielle Restivo got an e-mail from her mother, Loraine Fielder. The note read: “I love you. You’re wonderful. Can you please write me one paragraph on what you do.”
Fielder knew that her daughter was the head of global programs and corporate communications at LinkedIn, but when it came to explaining her actual role to friends and family, she needed a cheat sheet. She’s far from the only parent who feels this way, though she is one of few to have a direct impact on inter-familial policy in the modern workplace.
Last week, on Nov. 7, LinkedIn launched international Bring Your Parents To Work Day at 17 of its international offices. The event was partly the result of Restivo’s experience with her mother, which became part of a bigger conversation in the LinkedIn offices about the value of parental engagement.
This prompted a study, commissioned by LinkedIn, showing that one in three Canadian parents don’t really know what their offspring do at the office. “You have this disconnect, and so the conversations between parent and child end up being, ‘How was work?’ ‘Fine,’” explains Restivo, who worked out of LinkedIn’s Toronto office before recently relocating to Britain.
Bringing parents into the office is a way to bridge that gap. It is also one of many ways companies are learning to play mom and pop in their favour. Millennials are well-educated when entering the work force, but they still rely on the support and counsel of their parents, whose basements they may or may not reside in. Companies such as LinkedIn and Google – which has also hosted parents-at-work events – and any organization interested in attracting and retaining top talent are adjusting to these new realities by courting parents along with their kids.
“From an employer perspective, this type of [parental engagement] event is a home run,” says Restivo, meaning that it makes employees happy, makes companies look good and ultimately results in, well, results, which is of course the point.
At LinkedIn’s Toronto location, about 60 parents attended what organizers hope will become an annual event. There was some chat and snack time, a chance to look around the office and a series of casual presentations where representatives from each department explained their team’s specific role and how that fit into the bigger picture.
Mike Heslin, a 26-year-old relationships manager brought his parents Pat and Theresa. “I had stopped even trying [to explain Mike’s job],” says Theresa. “I end up telling people about the great cafeteria and the Ping-Pong table.” Following the info session, the Heslins felt more qualified to discuss their son’s professional life, so much so that dad was ready to pitch a few ideas for improvement on the spot. Both men work in sales. Gap bridged.
Gabor Forgacs is the father of Tom Forgacs, who works in LinkedIn’s marketing department. “We came to Toronto 24 years ago as new immigrants to bring our kids to a better country for a better future. For us [a day like today] is a tremendous validation,” says Forgacs senior, unabashedly proud of his son. And the company he works for.
Lauren Friese, founder of the online job board and career resource Talent Egg, says that in the recruitment business it used to be that if you wanted to bring in the best applicants, you had to win over the spouse. “Now,” she says, “it’s about winning over the parents.”
Some companies send out welcome packages to the families of new hires and many now include a “parents” tab in the recruiting section of their websites, and it doesn’t end there.
A 2012 study conducted by the American HR firm Adecco revealed that, much more than wanting their parents to know what they do, 8 per cent of postcollege job applicants have had their parents accompany them to a job interview, while 3 per cent had mom and/or dad sit in. Even more extreme examples include parents who want to negotiate salary, parents who call to find out why their child didn’t get the job.
Friese says that most of the corporations she works with – RBC, Bell, Target, IBM – have relayed anecdotes along these lines. “Welcome to the modern workplace,” she says, only half joking. Of course, the real question is whether the joke could be on a generation of young people left in a state of arrested development.
To the generations who entered the work force on their own, the rise of parents in the workplace sounds ridiculous if not reprehensible. But if 27 is the new 17, is it any wonder young people are starting their careers with the cord still attached?
Lynne Lancaster, the co-author of The M Factor: How the Millennial Generation is Rocking the Workplace, says that it’s all about finding an appropriate balance. On one hand, becoming a self-actualizing individual is a key step in the maturation process. On the other, young people are closer to their parents than any previous generation, which isn’t a bad thing.
“Millennials have grown up seeking their parents’ counsel on everything – soccer teams, picking a school, creating a résumé – so in some ways the extension of this relationship into the early professional years makes sense,” says Lancaster. She agrees that smart companies are figuring out how to make a connection with parents. Smart millennials, meanwhile, should remember that getting a job isn’t a team sport.
“Of course, a prospective employer isn’t going to tell you that you didn’t get a leadership position because you brought your parents to a job interview,” says Friese, “but there is still the matter of the impression you make.”
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