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.
"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 was 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.''
LinkedIn employee Riley Sisk, right, sits with her parents Margie, at left, and Jon during the company's second annual "Bring In Your Parents Day,"
Margie Sisk, a human resources specialist at an amusement park, remembers bringing her daughter Riley on a "Take Your Daughter To Work'' day. She never thought the tables would someday be turned. Riley, now a LinkedIn recruiting director, celebrated her 24th birthday Thursday hosting her mom and dad, Jon Sisk, at LinkedIn's Mountain View, California headquarters.
"It's a sign of the times, how much things have changed,'' says Margie, 50. 'We could have never taken our own parents to work. Everything here is so incredible that now I am sitting here wondering how I could get a job here.''
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 flew 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.
Bill Fernandez, who spent 40 years working in the auto industry, thought he might have come to the wrong place when he and his wife Hazel arrived at LinkedIn's headquarters Thursday morning to be chaperoned by their daughter, Robyn, a product consultant for the company.
"We saw one guy walking around in Bermuda shorts and thongs,'' Fernandez, 72, marveled. "He looked more like he was ready for a day in the park than to go to work.''
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 last year. 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.
"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 Thursday's visit gives her mother an even deeper understanding of her job as a senior relationship manager. If everything goes well, Amy says she may even try to set up Seta with her very own LinkedIn page.