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When the boss is a millennial: A new generation takes charge

Stephanie Feraca, right, a nurse manager of one

Stephanie Feraca, right, a nurse manager of one of the medical units at Huntington Hospital, holds a morning meeting with her staff on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015. Feraca, a 20-something millennial, is in charge of a staff of 25 ranging in age from their 20s to 50s. Credit: David L. Pokress / David L. Pokress

Long Island nurse Stephanie Feraca is a texting, multitasking, team-boosting, idea-suggesting millennial.

She’s also a boss.

Two years ago when she was 26, Feraca was named nurse manager of one of the medical surgical units at Huntington Hospital. That put her in charge of a staff of 25, ranging in age from their 20s to 50s.

“She has so much belief and optimism” along with daily ideas for making things at work better, says Denise Janke, 44, who showed Feraca the ropes when she first started in the oncology unit. “You could just see it. That she wants to be here every day, all the time.”

After Feraca’s promotion — her boss says she stood out for her skills in nursing, technology and leadership — Janke applied and transferred to her new unit.

Millennials — 18 to 34 years old — have been stereotyped as entitled and coddled. To be sure, generalizations are perilous. Now, these young workers are stepping up to the management plate, on Long Island and around the country. The transition is accelerating, be it in health care, business, government or the nonprofit world, experts say.

Long Island has 511,000 residents aged 20 to 34 years old, according to U.S. Census estimates. That compares with 572,000 35- to 49-year-olds, and 617,000 ages 50 to 64.

But those numerous baby boomers are starting to leave the work force. An estimated 10,000 a day reach retirement age in the United States, with a potential 20 million projected to hand in their employee badges in the next five years, according to The Washington Post’s Fact Checker column.

Though members of Generation X, ages 35 to 50, are primed to fill the leadership gap, millennials are also stepping into the boss’ role.

On Long Island, Jason Banks, executive vice president of Melville-based recruiting firm Lloyd Staffing, says that over the past two years his recruiters have been seeing an uptick in the numbers of millennials they’ve placed in jobs who have been promoted to supervisory roles.

The pace of promotion has been faster than in previous years. He points to “rapid change and the pace of technology” as a prime driver, with millennials being comfortable with and willing to adjust to change.

Some workplaces can be in for a bumpy ride, at least temporarily, says Dan Schawbel, partner and research director with Future Workplace, a Manhattan-based executive development firm. Along with their energy and aspiration to leadership, millennials bring their own workplace ideas, which can collide with more traditional approaches and lead to friction and anxiety in their new direct reports.

For example, communication styles and millennials’ propensity to respond to texts and instant messages much faster than to voice-mail messages can be disconcerting to more tenured workers, he says.

And how about their vocal push for more flexible work arrangements? Baby boomers, possibly already miffed at the new boss’ perceived lack of dues paying, might look askance at his or her arrival at the workspace an hour or so later than the traditional start time — despite the boss’ availability via text.

As with any major disruption, Schawbel says, it all gets worked out eventually. For now, we’re in an adjustment phase.

It took registered nurse John Abruzzo, 58, of Seaford, two or three days to master the art of texting, a communication style his boss, Feraca, recently turned to for matters such as scheduling. The natural approach of a seasoned person such as himself, he said, is to pick up the phone and make a call.

However, as someone who changed careers eight years ago — he ran small businesses, including a beer distributor, then became a security officer at Huntington Hospital — he said he’s interested in learning, including new digital approaches in patient updates and administering medications. It’s useful and inspiring, he said, to have a boss who is steeped in the digital world and who can help ease the staff’s transition from paper.

Among the reasons friction can arise, Schawbel said, is the fast-tracking of some young people into management roles without the benefit of experience and training in the nuances of supervising others. A 2015 survey by his company and career site with 5,771 respondents from a mix of generations found 45 percent of the boomers and Gen Xers saying that the millennials’ lack of managerial experience could negatively affect an organization’s culture. On the flip side, one-third of the millennials said that older generations can be hard to manage.

That would not be a problem, though, for Ralph Bianculli Jr., 26, and his sister Jaclyn McDuffey, 24, who two years ago took over day-to-day operations of Syosset-based Emerald Brand. Founded by their father, the company develops and provides everyday, sustainable products, such as tree-free facial tissue — made with materials including bamboo — and compostable cups.

The two have actively sought to develop a multigenerational workforce, Bianculli said, now made up of 35 full- and part-timers, including two drivers who have been with the company for 20 years.

“Each generation brings its own unique talent to the table,” Bianculli says. He cites the technical skills, creativity and grasp of the latest outreach methods, such as social media and digital marketing, that come with those in his own cohort. Workers his father’s age bring people-to-people skills, he said, along with a solid foundation in business practices and ethics.

Bianculli said he wants all of his staff to show “adaptability to change,” citing as an example the present need for his drivers to transition from operating diesel to natural-gas trucks. In the push to become even more sustainable, “you need to be on board to that and able to adapt.”

Technology/innovation is an area that millennials say they would like to tackle when they become workplace leaders, according to a 2014 leadership survey of 785 people 18 to 33 years old, all with at least some college credits, that was done for the Hartford Financial Services Group. Other issues seasoned workers might expect a new 20-something manager to introduce or emphasize include those related to workplace flexibility and leadership training.

Stepping into a two-month interim nurse manager role while in the oncology unit led Feraca to realize “that I was not only taking care of myself. I was taking care of everyone under me,” she says.

Though she refers to herself as a cheerleader for her people, Feraca also had to learn how to manage difficult situations, including tough conversations with employees over performance and other issues. She credits her boss and mentor, Janet Milanese, associate vice president of nursing, with coaching her in conflict management, showing her the value of gathering all sides of a story, hopping on an issue right away and documenting all conversations.

Among the qualities that account for Feraca’s promotion at such an early age are her enthusiasm and abilities to build morale and inspire staff, Milanese said. Feraca’s “very bright” and passionate about patient care, she said, and skilled at gathering and analyzing data to improve patient care.

Millennials, both staff and bosses, have a “hunger for learning and expanding skills,” says Jocelyn Figueroa, 30, engineering manager at PL Developments, a Westbury-based maker of over-the-counter pharmaceuticals and health care products. As she assumed managerial duties, Figueroa’s gotten coaching help from human resources, and is also working on her certification in Six Sigma, a process for reducing errors in product production. Figueroa’s staff now includes two 20-something engineers and seven millennial, Gen X and baby boomer data processing staffers.

As a member of a generation that also craves more frequent feedback than just the annual performance review, Figueroa makes a point of having quarterly conversations with her staff, as well as casual sit-downs following the completion of most projects, giving and getting suggestions, she says.

Still, what about the stereotypes of millennials’ self-confidence, and how might that trait influence their management styles?

Millennials’ “confidence in their ability to move mountains” may “grate on others,” said Ann Fishman, founder and president of Generational Targeted Marketing, a Manhattan-based consulting firm.

Millennials got strong support from their families, which gave them the confidence to feel “you’re going to make a great statement with your life with enough energy left over to help other people. Call that entitled if you want, but I prefer to think of it as empowered,” Fishman said.

As managers they’re more likely to focus on what’s good for the team, consulting all members and asking for input, she said.

Abruzzo at Huntington Hospital says his boss Feraca “is open to change and listening and involving everybody in teamwork.”

Abruzzo also appreciates the praise and encouragement Feraca is quick to share. The young boss sends personal notes to staffers’ homes, so the messages can be opened and shared with family members. And once a week at morning briefings, Feraca makes a point to share motivational quotes, ask staffers to speak of contributions of other team members and read patient letters praising the unit.

Team building involves encouraging, coaching and supporting her staff, Feraca says. Sometimes it can be just as basic as telling them “thank you for a great day.”

Tips for boomer employees with millennial bosses:

n Preferences can vary, but it may be wise to send texts, rather than leave voice mails.

n Just because the boss isn’t in the office doesn’t mean that he or she isn’t working or reachable remotely.

n If you don’t have kids of your own, consider getting a younger mentor to learn their ways

n Avoid stereotypes, such as that 20-somethings are “entitled”


Tips for millennial bosses

n Texting is great for simple transactions, but go to face-to-face for anything dicey.

n As you introduce change, also acknowledge strengths older employees bring, such as a strong work ethic and institutional knowledge

n Avoid stereotypes, such as that boomers are unfamiliar with technology

n Ask for management training to help with intergenerational and other issues

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