Helicopter Employers

Nov 26, 2013
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

helicopterAnother recent article popped up in my email asking how well we, the employers, are measuring up to the expectations of the millennial generation. You know what my answer is to that? Enough already!

Please give me a moment to breathe, and then the rant will continue.

Ready? Yes? So am I.

We, my friends and colleagues, are turning into helicopter employers. We hover and scurry and watch and worry about meeting the expectations and the needs of this one generation in our midst. Are we giving them enough flexibility? Do we do enough social good to make them feel in tune with our vision and purpose? Are we providing them adequate modern technologies and social media access to allow them to feel continuously connected with their friends and families?  Do our practices allow them enough contact with their parents that they feel comfortable and confident?

What is our problem? Yes, we want good employees within this segment to thrive and grow within our organizations. We want them to be engaged, to perform well, to stay with us and to build a thriving career with us. Of course we do. But are we going too far worrying about adjusting our business practices and offerings to meet their expectations? What about them learning to adjust to meet the needs, and sometimes the limitations, of the workplace?

  • Sometimes a job or career requires working in a specific location and within specific hours.
  • Sometimes the tasks at hand and the work environment disallow social media access.
  • Sometimes a role requires that you prove you can tackle a task or make a decision on your own.
  • Sometimes an otherwise ideal workplace cannot, for financial or other reasons, upgrade to the specific technologies one would prefer.

There’s another problem that plays into all of this: When we recommend changes to certain aspects of the workplace and we base our suggestions on meeting millennials’ expectations, we negatively impact the perceived significance of these recommendations. In other words, when our recommendations are interpreted as “pink puffy heart feel-good” options rather than as programs that can positively impact our business outcomes (through driving up profit, improving productivity, supporting quality output, etc.), we hurt our credibility as business partners.

Is my generation the culprit in all of this? Many in my generation are the parents of many of millennials. It’s par for the course. My generation is the one that started this “everything has to be fair” stuff, doing away with praising kids for excellence in anything lest other children be made to feel inadequate. My generation is the one that kicked off the practice of only doling out participation awards (to everyone), the one that fights like mad with teachers to let children have do-over tests when they don’t perform well, the one that does anything to prevent kids from feeling frustration or disappointment. This obsession with meeting millennials’ expectations feels like an extension of this focus.

You may think I’m just old and cynical, and you may be right. The thing is, I believe in focusing on culture and engagement in the workplace, and that these elements not only reduce turnover but can have a significant, positive impact on business performance. Changing business practices, tools, and technologies — as well as meeting the expectations of our employees — can benefit the business and the employees.

I just don’t want us to become helicopter employers. And about that, don’t ask me to answer my cell phone if a millennial calls me in the middle of a business meeting. On that count, I draw the line.


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This article is part of a series called Opinion.
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