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2017-06-22 13:41:02
When Helicopter Parents Hover Even at Work

When the cameras start rolling Thursday night at Barclays Center, scene of the National Basketball Association draft, one of the biggest stories won’t be a player, but a parent: LaVar Ball, father of the U.C.L.A. phenom Lonzo Ball, who is projected to be among the top five picks.

As his son rocketed to fame, the elder Ball always seemed one step ahead, declaring that Lonzo would play for the Los Angeles Lakers; lecturing Charles Barkley on the psychology of a champion; comparing his own game to Michael Jordan’s and judging it superior. He is taking a central role in dealings with apparel companies and even teams over his son’s financial future.

But while pundits derided LaVar Ball as the state of the art in obsessive sports dads — an Earl Woods or Stefano Capriati for the social media age — he may actually epitomize a model that extends far beyond the arena: the helicopter parent of the workplace.

As millennials grow into their working years, with many of them coming of age in the daunting job market that followed the Great Recession, parents are more likely to feel a proprietary stake in their children’s careers, said Ryan Webb, a recruiter and former human resources director at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts. The hovering is abetted by a full complement of real-time communications options — from texting to Skype and social media — and fueled by the desire to see a return on investment for sending children to college in an age of escalating tuition.

“Mom and Dad footed the college bill, made sacrifices to get that extra thing on their résumé, so they felt part of the process,” said Mr. Webb, who said that texting one’s parents was frequently the first reflex for the millennials in his charge after a run-in with a manager.

Brandi Britton, a recruiter with OfficeTeam, a division of the firm Robert Half, said she never saw or heard from parents when she entered the business nearly two decades ago but has increasingly felt their influence. She recalled a father calling her in the past two years in an attempt to get his son an accounting job. The father sent in his son’s résumé, scheduled the interview and, to her surprise, turned up with him in person. “He was shepherding that thing,” she said.

When OfficeTeam solicited employers’ helicopter-parenting stories in a 2016 survey, they found this was not unheard-of. One told of a job candidate who piped his mother into an interview via Skype, while another recalled a mother asking if she could sit for an interview in place of her child, who had a scheduling conflict. A third mother interrupted in the middle of an interview to ask if she could observe.

While such parents, like LaVar Ball, may be outliers, and most millennials are perfectly capable of negotiating their own way in the workplace, some organizations genuinely appear to be struggling with a scourge of parental meddling. In her book “How to Raise an Adult,” the former Stanford freshmen dean Julie Lythcott-Haims reports that officials at Teach for America have been mystified in recent years by the volume of parents who intervene on behalf of their adult children, whom the group employs as teachers.

A Teach for America administrator told Ms. Lythcott-Haims that parents had called him with complaints about such issues as their child’s being disciplined by a principal or having a run-in with a fellow teacher, as though the adult child were still a student. (Teach for America did not respond to a request for comment.)

Andrea Colabella, a recruiter for companies like hedge funds and private equity firms, said that one of the crucial questions her firm asked candidates before they ever received an offer was, “Who do you need to talk to before you make a decision?” They do so to avoid any last-minute blowups when an offer does come. “For millennials, at least those who have graduated in the past five years, 80 percent of the time it’s parents, versus friends or a mentor,” she said.

The data would appear to back her up. In a 2015 study by Robert Half that surveyed university students born between 1990 and 1999, more than 80 percent said their parents or guardians would influence their career choices after graduation. (Millennials are generally defined as the generation born between the early 1980s and late 1990s to early 2000s.)

The phenomenon began emerging as millennials hit the job market over a decade ago. In 2007, the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University published a survey of 725 employers that found that nearly a quarter had encountered parental involvement in the hiring process and the early stages of workers’ careers.

Within that group of employers, more than 30 percent reported parents submitting a résumé for their children; 15 percent reported fielding complaints from a parent when the company didn’t hire their child; and nearly 10 percent said parents had insinuated themselves into salary and benefit negotiations.

In recent years, many companies have begun embracing the relationship between parents and their adult children rather than chafing at it, perhaps even co-opting it for their benefit, which some experts believe has largely defused the worst parental tendencies.

This November, LinkedIn will hold its fifth annual Bring In Your Parents Day, an event the company said has spread to scores of companies globally. Blair Decembrele, a LinkedIn official who oversees the event, said part of the rationale was the realization the workers relied heavily on their parents for career advice. “My dad came to a few — he’s been really excited about what I do,” she said. “He knows my team, colleagues, boss. We can have much more in-depth conversation about professional career development with him having insight into that.”

Or consider Cornerstone OnDemand, a company based in Santa Monica, Calif., that develops software that employers use for recruiting, training and managing workers. Cornerstone started its “Bring Your Parents to Work Day” around the same time as LinkedIn, according to Kimberly Cassady, its vice president for talent, partly because employees were already toting their parents to the office.

“It was not uncommon to meet a parent in the elevator, walking around the office,” she said. “They would rave about the place, but still have this question — ‘I still don’t know what he/she does.’”

Alexandra Geller, the company’s investor relations manager and a millennial herself, said the event allowed her mother, who flew in from Connecticut, to put faces to recurring characters in their conversations. “She was able to meet people she hadn’t met in the past, who we talk about on a regular basis,” Ms. Geller said.

Perhaps inadvertently, the event has also highlighted some generational differences. According to Ms. Cassady, the millennial workers — who make up about half of those who attend — tend to hang out with their parents for parts of the day. The older workers, by contrast, tend to “come in at 10 a.m. and go do their work.”

Of course, professional sports may be the one corner of the work force where parental involvement was very much the norm long before the millennials turned up, if for no other reason than that it involves adult children playing a kids’ game for a living. One can only assume that N.B.A. parents have been harassing coaches for years, even if they only recently started getting caught doing so by fans with ready access to social media.

Still, there does appear to be something uniquely millennial-parent about LaVar Ball, who in addition to hatching Big Baller Brand, the family apparel line, has created a sports talent agency, Ball Sports Group, whose sole purpose will be to represent Lonzo and his two brothers, high school standouts who are expected to follow their brother to U.C.L.A.

Perhaps most tellingly in this regard, Mr. Ball reportedly demanded that any apparel company intent on signing Lonzo license the Big Baller Brand, telling USA Today that a deal including all three sons would have to yield them $1 billion. (The apparel heavyweights all told him no, thanks, according to ESPN.)

While other prominent sports parents have exerted influence over their adult children’s business decisions, “I can’t think of anybody who turned their back on the marketing might and power of a Nike, an Adidas, or any of those companies, and said, ‘Nope, I’m going to do it myself,’” said Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing expert at Baker Street Advertising. “It’s definitely unprecedented.”

As word of Mr. Ball’s parenting style has spread — he has reportedly been training his brood for the N.B.A. since the time they could walk — some have compared him to Marv Marinovich, who groomed his son Todd to be a professional quarterback with a fanatical regimen that began in utero.

Todd Marinovich, a heralded college player, managed a mere eight games in the National Football League in the early 1990s and has struggled with drug addiction much of his life. But while his highly programmed upbringing led to his being labeled “Robo QB,” he says his father, in stark contrast to Mr. Ball, had no involvement in his negotiations with teams or marketing officials.

“One thing about Marv, he knew his limitations,” Todd Marinovich said in an interview. “In terms of representation, he knew he was out of his element.”

He added, “He comes from an older generation.”