• Graphic by Tim Bobko

    Credit: TIM BOBKO

 

As a young professional, I thought it might be a challenge to carve out my role as a supervisor when some of the staff I was overseeing had not long ago been my peers. I had worked my way up from lifeguard to manager, and everything in between, before becoming aquatic supervisor. Luckily, I was able to move into my new role quite easily. What I hadn’t anticipated was the parental involvement in many of our staff’s issues.

Helicopter parenting seems to come in all forms and levels of intensity. When “Joe” responds to an email in a not-so-Joe-like tone  and is suddenly spelling every word correctly, using punctuation and refraining from slang, it’s obvious that it is actually Joe’s mom writing for him. Or I'll notice a change in handwriting from the initial application to the interview paperwork. One of my favorites is when a new employee’s parent fills out their tax forms and direct deposit paperwork incorrectly, sometimes more than once.

These things don’t really bother me. But what I didn’t expect was for a parent to call their child’s place of employment, despite reminding our new staff members that we hired them, not their family. Our rule is that unless there are extenuating circumstances, they must contact us about their employment.

The incident that caused the crash involved a lifeguard who had incurred a variety of infractions over a span of several months. At the end of summer, we needed yet another disciplinary meeting. However, he left for college without scheduling it, though he indicated interest in returning the following summer. All employees are issued summer contracts at the end of the season guaranteeing their position for the next year. This helps us determine returning staff numbers and how many new people need to be hired.

Before issuing a contract, the disciplinary meeting was necessary to re-evaluate his job performance and set future goals. I had mailed a letter to him long before issuing summer contracts to give him time to set up either a conference call or in-person meeting. A few days later, we received voicemails followed by several calls from his mother demanding to know why her son was in trouble and why he wouldn’t receive a contract. She was more irate than any customer I’ve ever dealt with.

As we spoke, I felt a mix of emotions: embarrassment for my employee, shock at his mother’s boldness, confusion, anger and frustration. After channeling my emotions and evaluating our situation, I realized that I could, perhaps, get her on our side. I mailed a copy of his infractions along with documentation from our disciplinary meetings to the employee (and his mom because they live at the same address). This would serve as a useful reminder to him of his job performance, and his mother would see exactly why her son was not issued a contract.

After this, I never heard from the mother, but I did receive a call from the employee, asking to set up a meeting. The meeting went well and I reminded him that we employ him, not his parents.