Helicopter Parents: Kenya has a problem

About a year ago my friend Jason and I were joking about helicopter parenting in the UK. We exchanged some meme’s about millennial work ethics and Jason told me a story or two and I laughed. I knew helicopter parenting was going to be a problem in Kenya because I’d already faced it a couple of times (millennial work ethics is a can of worms I won’t open just yet). We’d have maybe a case once every two or three years. I even experienced helicopter spouses (if there’s such a thing?).

Let me first use Wikipedia’s definition (as at 16th Oct 2018) of a Helicopter parent: “…a parent who pays extremely close attention to a child’s or children’s experiences…”

We would usually employ a highly intelligent graduate after they ticked all the right boxes, scored high on the various tests and showed the potential to make an impact on our organisation’s future. After a few weeks a request would come: salary raise, company transport provision, change in work hours (of course less than an 8 hour, 5 day a week shift), a different brand of tea, an excuse as to why a certain duty or role cannot be executed [pick any one of these]. The request would start off a conversation with their supervisor or HR and eventually we would find out that the mother or father (usually only one of them) isn’t happy with their child working with us. A casual comment or a probe and comparison about how they’d be better off working for a larger organisation with better money potential or a more defined desk job would kick off a tug-of-war. We the employer would now be doing our best to keep this high-potential employee by talking to them, knowing that actually we’re talking with the helicopter parent and the employee is basically a tool. Or a pawn for the parent. (My coach squads will see things so easily here!)

It might be true (or untrue!) that a larger organisation will pay more than us and offer a safe(r) environment with no need to wear personal protective equipment. But is that what millennial young adults want? Note my deliberate use of ‘young adults’ here. I digress…

The trigger for these requests is when this new recruit has been corrected, or flagged for something done out of procedure. At some point responsibility is thrust onto them (how else will they learn about the real world?) and they can’t handle it, because they were not allowed to experience how to handle it while growing up…

And the helicopter parent begins the process of blaming the employer and instilling the mistrust which very quickly confuses the young adult and they lose focus. What happens when they lose focus? More mistakes. Drop in performance. Eventual separation.

An organisation can handle one of these situations once in a while. For some reason we were recently hit with about 5 of these situations at the same time or overlapping. Some involved interns and some involved graduates in their 2nd or 3rd job. We had cases of the parents coming to our premises to ‘understand’ what job their child was doing and questioning the growth potential of them being here. It was frustrating to see so much potential in these young individuals being held back because part-time school was the priority or the distance between home and work was not optimal. 

Do we now need to include in the hiring process a test for the parents? Should we ask the child if they are their own decision maker or should we negotiate their remuneration package with the parents? Are helicopter parents preventing intelligent young adults from getting onto the career ladder? Whatever the case, I think we are underestimating the impact of helicopter parents on the economy and the future of Kenya.

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