October 3, 2012
Q&A: How to deal with helicopter parent at work
Q: The mother of one of my employees recently called my boss to complain that her daughter, "Angie," was being overworked. Angie was upset because some required training made it difficult for her to complete her regular duties, so I quickly resolved the problem by changing her training schedule.
However, I was completely shocked that Angie had been afraid to talk to me directly and that her mother felt a need to contact my manager. With Angie's permission, I called her mother, who said she was just worried about her daughter's health.
Apparently, the suggestion to call my boss came from our receptionist, who is a personal friend of Angie's mother. I don't understand why the receptionist never told me about this, because we have always had a great relationship.
The fact that all these people have been talking behind my back has me very upset. As Angie's supervisor, I feel I should have been given more respect. What should I do?
A: You need to take a deep breath, calm down, and recognize that this is not some sort of subversive plot. You have simply gotten caught up in a convoluted communication chain. So instead of continuing to fret about recent events, focus on the future and take steps to prevent a recurrence.
Regrettably, Angie's mother appears to be a "helicopter parent" who doesn't understand that anyone old enough to have finished high school is also old enough to handle her own work issues. To help Angie break the habit of making Mom her mouthpiece, gently explain what she needs to do instead.
For example: "Angie, I'm glad we were able to resolve your concerns about the training schedule. However, I hope that in the future you'll come to me directly if you are worried about anything. As your supervisor, my goal is to help you be successful, so we need to discuss any problems you may have."
As for the receptionist, just cut her a little slack. She may have inadvertently stepped on your toes while trying to help a friend, but that's no reason to ruin a previously great relationship.
Q: My co-worker eats soup in his cubicle three times a day, despite the fact that office policy prohibits eating at your desk. This soup has a very strong, unpleasant odor, and on top of that, he repeatedly clanks his bowl to get every single drop.
Our manager has sent everyone reminder emails about the policy, but this guy is still eating his soup. How do we get him to stop?
A: Like many managers, your boss has not yet learned that group warnings never solve individual performance problems. General admonitions are almost always ignored by the actual offenders.
To actually enforce the policy, your manager must stop hiding behind "reminder emails" and tell this soup-slurping employee to take his bowl to the break room. Otherwise, you'll be hearing that clanking spoon for a long, long time.
Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach. Send in questions at yourofficecoach.com.
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