Fri., January 17, 2014 7:30am (EST)

Working: 'Bring Your Parents To Work' Day Is A Thing... Seriously
By Joshua Stewart
Updated: 6 months ago

ATLANTA  —  
Some companies are opening their doors to their young workers' parents, often in the form of open houses or "bring your parents to work" days. But GPB's workplace expert says that also opens the door to problems. (Photo Courtesy of <a href=http://www.flickr.com/photos/timpatterson/476098132/>Tim Patterson via Flickr</a>.)
Some companies are opening their doors to their young workers' parents, often in the form of open houses or "bring your parents to work" days. But GPB's workplace expert says that also opens the door to problems. (Photo Courtesy of Tim Patterson via Flickr.)
Some companies are opening their doors to their young workers' parents, often in the form of open houses or "bring your parents to work" days. But GPB's workplace expert says that also opens the door to problems.

Brandon Smith is not a fan of the idea, which he said often manifests at companies who have a lot of employees in the so–called millennial generation (people largely in their 20s now).

"It's happening because the employees like it. They're close to their parents and they're still having their parents help them make decisions," said Smith, who teaches about leadership, communication and workplace culture at Emory University and Georgia State. "Their parents like it too."

Companies want to engage employees more deeply and foster loyalty. And Smith said it's clear where that comes from.

"We've heard a lot about the millennial generation and helicopter parents. Parents are really actively involved [in this generation's lives]," he said. "And research studies have shown the millennial generation has the closest relationship with their parents of any generation prior."

But Smith said efforts to engage parents in the workplace create a strange three-way relationship between employees, their boss and their parents.

"Instead of just giving you feedback—I'm your boss, you're my direct–report, I give you feedback—you go tell your parents. Then they now want to talk to me about the feedback or they talk to you about what you should tell me. It feels middle school-y. It's not this direct, one-on-one," Smith said.

He said the problem is, the employer has opened the door to parental involvement by inviting them into the office.

"See, you've met them on 'Take Your Parents to Work' Day. You've had an open house and you've met them there," Smith said. "[The mother] told you how excited she was that her son's now working here. But now, [she's] upset. She feels like she should talk to you about the performance review you gave her son, because he's always been perfect."

Smith said more broadly, parental involvement in the workplace is holding back a whole generation from growing up.

"They need to be able to make their own decisions [and] make mistakes so they learn," he said, pointing to surveys of millennials that found they don't think they're adults until they have a kid or turn 30.

"There's this phenomenon of this huge, extended period of adolescence."

Smith said parents can be involved in their children's careers, just in a more–limited way.

"[Children should] take their advice with a grain of salt," Smith said. "We don't need to be doing everything our parents tell us. They have a vested interest in you, and their interest is, largely, security and stability. They're not going to say, 'Quit your job and start a business.'

"Most parents I talk to say, 'No, they should take the safe job.' They've got a vested interest that may not align with what you want," he said. So younger workers should take their parents' advice as one perspective but not let parents make the decisions.

"That's what we're talking about here, learning how to make that balance where we keep our parents involved in our lives, but it's our lives."

Brandon Smith teaches about leadership, communication, and workplace culture at Emory University's Goizueta Business School. More of his advice is on his blog and at theworkplacetherapist.com. While you’re there, ask him your workplace or career question. We might answer you in a future radio segment.