Seta Whitford-Stark was dumbfounded last year when she found out her daughter Amy quit her job at an employee-recruiting agency to work for LinkedIn, an Internet company that Seta had never heard of. Amy tried to explain what the online professional networking service did, but Seta couldn't quite grasp the concept or why the 29-year-old would want to work there.
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"Oh my God, what has she gotten herself into?" Seta, now 73, recalls muttering to herself.
Then Seta got to observe Amy and her colleagues in action at LinkedIn Corp.'s New York office and came away with a much better understanding of her daughter's career. She'll be back at LinkedIn again Thursday for its second annual "Bring In Your Parents Day," joining thousands of parents at companies around the globe in an event that gives adult children a rare opportunity to showcase the cultural and technological changes that have transformed the modern workplace.
Conceived by LinkedIn last year, more than 50 companies and other organizations in 16 countries are now embracing this generational spin on the take-the-kids-to-work craze that began a couple decades ago. Companies realize that some parents who once tried to enlighten their kids by letting them tag along at work may be confused about what their now-adult children do.
"The first reaction when you hear about this is, 'Really, bring your parents to work? Is that really something you should be doing?" says LinkedIn Corp. CEO Jeff Weiner. But it makes sense, he says, "once you have done it and see how meaningful it is. It helps us all speak a common language in terms of how the world is working today."
Leo Burnett North America CEO Rich Stoddart expects many of the roughly 200 fathers and mothers attending the Chicago advertising agency's event to be startled by what they see and hear. He is confident the visit will cast ad agencies in a new light, especially among parents whose perceptions have been shaped by the "Mad Men" television series set in the 1960s or the 1956 film, "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit."
"They are going to collide with a creative workforce that has a lot of twenty-somethings walking around in T-shirts and jeans," says Stoddart, whose 77-year-old mother is flying in from Cleveland to attend Thursday's event. The agenda includes lessons on how to use Twitter, glimpses at past and future ad campaigns and live music performed by "Bassel and the Supernaturals," one of the bands that the agency has been bringing for the past nine years to help make work more fun.
Joe Hirz, 65, was pleasantly surprised by how much freedom LinkedIn's workers seemed to have while he accompanied his daughter, Jill Hirz-Jones, to LinkedIn's inaugural parent's day at the company's Mountain View, California headquarters. It was a stark difference to his 45-year career as an auto mechanic, a job that required him to account for his whereabouts and activity virtually every minute of his shift.
Getting an inside glimpse of LinkedIn also gave Joe, who didn't have a television set at home until he was 10 years old, a better understanding of how technology has changed the way people find jobs today. More than 332 million people have set up profiles on LinkedIn pages where they share their career accomplishments, turning the service into a popular way to connect employers with talented workers.
"In my era, jobs came through word of mouth from your friends or in classified ads in newspapers," Joe says. "Now, it seems like you can get information almost immediately on a phone, including finding a job just about anywhere in the world."
Jill, 29, says it's now much easier to discuss work with her dad after last year's visit gave him a window into her corporate communications job.
"For him, working in a garage, communications meant speaking really loudly so everyone could hear him," Jill says. "Now, it's easier for him to understand when I am talking about a challenge on our communications team."
Some companies participating in "Bring In Your Parents Day" may be motivated by more than enlightening parents, says Brad Sago, a Wheaton College professor of business and management who specializes in generation-gap issues.
"Getting parents on their team is another way for companies to build brand equity," says Sago. "They are creating a company advocate, which is important because these parents are still influential in many children's lives."
As an advertising executive, Stoddart is unabashed in his desire to sell parents on the merits of working at Leo Burnett.
"We want our best employees to stay with us and parent advice is often involved in some of those big career decisions," Stoddart says. "So, it's OK with me if a parent says, 'Gee, I love that place, Leo Burnett. Why are you looking around?'"
LinkedIn views parents' day as another way to help its 6,000 employees tap the knowledge of earlier generations. Research commissioned by the company found that nearly two-thirds of U.S. workers believe their parents have advice to give that could help further their careers but haven't yet shared it. On the flip side, about 20 percent of the parents surveyed said they are reluctant to pass along their wisdom because they don't know enough about their children's careers.
"We are better able to leverage those collective experiences if we can help our parents understand what we do and how we do it," Weiner says.
Seta Whitford-Stark says she just wanted to see that Amy is thriving in her career. That mission was accomplished, though she still isn't sure about all the technology that powers LinkedIn's service.
"Everybody seemed to know all about computers except me," says Seta, a retired high school teacher who now substitutes.
Amy is hoping to give her mother an even deeper understanding of her job as a senior relationship manager when Seta returns Thursday. If everything goes well, Amy says she may even try to set up Seta with her very own LinkedIn page.