Helicopter Parents Drag Down the Frontline Retail Workforce
Helicopter Parents Drag Down the Frontline Retail Workforce

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Helicopter parents are nothing new. From the first Cro-Magnon child that ventured out into the hunt, there was certainly an anxious mother standing behind that youngster, magnifying the dangers he could encounter. With that said helicopter parenting has taken a strange new form as the next generation is entering the retail workforce. From sitting in on their child’s job interviews to showing up to lecture irate customers who are yelling at their son or daughter, this generation of helicopter parents isn’t leaving advocacy behind when their kids clock in for their shift.

For many young people, frontline retail is their first real job, which explains why helicopter parents are having such a challenging time staying out of their kids’ workflow as they worry about (or control) that first on the job experience.

The average age of retail cashiers is 20 to 30 years old, which comprises the largest age demographic of retail cashiers (33 percent). For many young people, frontline retail is their first real job, which explains why helicopter parents are having such a challenging time staying out of their kids’ workflow as they worry about (or control) that first on-the-job experience.

So, what’s causing this excess parental involvement on retail frontlines? How can retailers deal with helicopter parents’ boundary issues without alienating next gen employees? Let’s take a look.

The Chickens Hath Returned to the Coop

According to Wall Street Journal, helicopter parenting in the workplace was exacerbated by the pandemic. Many young workers that had been attending school or working in frontline retail positions suddenly found themselves without a source of income or a course of study. Plus, there was a boom in young people moving back into their family homes. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that in 2022, more than half (56 percent) of adults ages 18 to 24 lived in their parental home, along with 16 percent of adults ages 25 to 34. That’s a lot of full-grown adults with parents running the show.

This isn’t the first time that millennials have been accused of Peter Pan tendencies. But nobody expected this from pathologically independent, future-forward Gen Z. Could it be that the pandemic diminished their ambitions? Considering that this generation came of age during the pandemic, coupled with the Great Resignation and you’ve got Gen Zs who are no longer trying to lock down a singular, secure job in a singular, secure company to last them a lifetime. Now add to that the fact that some scientists are giving humans 30 more years of normal life on earth, if we don’t drastically change our consumption habits. Combine these threads and it’s no surprise that Gen Z is highly is not only aware of this estimate, but also that as Fortune reports, since the pandemic, “Gen Z is over corporate America, ladder climbing, and ‘practicality.’”

In fact, due to the current mental health crisis, many modern young people are less focused on the future than simply trying to rustle up some serotonin to get through today. Enter helicopter parents who feel highly protective of their kids’ ability to do so.

Are Helicopter Parents Compensating for Their Kids’ Lack of Life Skills?

Young people today simply haven’t benefitted from the human immersion that their predecessors had during their formative years. As such, after years of isolation many lack the quintessential communication skills necessary to deal with interpersonal issues in the workplace––whether it be dealing with verbal abuse from unsatisfied shoppers, asking for what they need from their managers, or even acing an in-person interview.

Perhaps, then, it becomes clear why some helicopter parents are tagging along to their children’s job interviews. This phenomenon is especially prevalent on Zoom, where parents can often be seen shuffling around in the background of job interviews or heard giving their kids questions to pass on to their potential employers. It will also come as no surprise that retail hiring managers are less than enthused about this development.

This isn’t the same situation as millennials’ helicopter parents doing too much of their children’s homework, helping with their college applications, or emphatically coaching a soccer team. We’re talking about active parental involvement in every phase of their kids’ work life.

Helicopter Parents Aren’t a Victimless Crime in Frontline Retail

Parental overstepping in the frontline retail workforce can have unexpected consequences for both employer and employee. A few key things can happen when parents step in on job interviews, conversations with customers, or salary negotiations:

  • Young retail workers may lose the respect of their colleagues and managers. They can be seen as coddled and unable to advocate for themselves.
  • Workers miss the opportunity to develop professional skills early in their careers. When skills such as marketing oneself, conflict resolution, and salary negotiation aren’t developed, kids pay the price as they move up (or don’t) the corporate ladder.
  • When workers lack the social skills to discuss products effectively, the in-person shopping experience isn’t appealing to customers. This can lead to lost sales and bad online reviews.
  • Customers may file a complaint about parental intrusion, and the young worker could be fired.

Fortunately, retailers don’t have to blindly accept parental over-involvement. The best way to handle parental overload in the workplace is to nip it in the bud during the hiring process. Hiring managers should be on alert to look for signs of helicopter parenting that could interfere with the candidates’ ability to adequately perform the tasks of their job.

Boundaries for Retailers to Prevent Parental Overstepping

When creating a job listing, hiring managers can ask candidates to check a box that they can actually perform the tasks outlined independently, or with reasonable accommodations. Hiring managers should be trained to look out for candidates consulting with any external entities during the interview process, which includes parents in the background, as well as checking their notes too often which can imply that they’re referencing a list that their parents created and unable to think independently about the job in question.

In the same vein of “the best defense is a good offense,” retailers can forbid the associate’s family from interfacing with customers or managers when they’re on the clock––barring the rare health catastrophe that necessitates familial outreach. And, finally, when dealing with younger employees, retailers can make it clear that they aren’t expected to perform as though they have decades of industry experience under their belt. Give them training opportunities. Use role-playing to act out various customer scenarios on the sales floor. Mentor them. Reverse-mentor them. The more confident young employees are in their own abilities, and their managers’ ability to cultivate them, the less they’ll feel like they need (inappropriate) parental intervention.

Retailers needn’t accept helicopter parenting as table stakes for operating a physical store in 2023. It is highly preventable. By hiring the right candidates, setting a precedent for independent work, and offering training to give young employees confidence in their own abilities, retailers can ensure that parental over-involvement never impacts their customer experience or disrupts the workplace and workforce culture.

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