What I’ve learnt from millennials and baby boomers

In the past nine months, I’ve had three event-management interns — two millennials (the generation born 1981-2000) and a baby boomer (those born 1946-1964) — work with me at My Wedding Décor.

The two 21-year-olds plan to secure event work in festivals and non-profit organizations.

The third, who became my one-day-per-week assistant at the end of her internship in March, is fifty-something and left the Australian Taxation Office after 30 years in personnel. She had become the go-to person in her department for staff events, and after planning two nieces’ weddings, decided to get into wedding planning.

I belong to Generation X (those born 1965-1980), and it has been an eye-opener for me to discover the very different strengths and weaknesses of both generations.

The millennials delighted and — shall I admit it? — surprised me with their strong work ethic.

My first 21-year-old didn’t bat an eyelid at having to be picked up at 5:30 a.m. in the second week of her internship to help me set up a function room for a breakfast networking event. The second one readily agreed to swap her nearby weekend waitressing job in return for being paid to work at my expo stand, despite this venue being over 40 miles from her home, making it 160 miles of traveling in two days. Neither missed a day of their internship.

My baby boomer has requested much more time off! She had a three-week holiday over Easter to New York and Hawaii; next month she is going on a family holiday to Italy. Luckily, July is a somewhat quieter month event-wise so her absence doesn’t impact my business as much. And so much for the image of irresponsible millennials escaping work duties to backpack: It is the older generation who have the time and money to travel — and they do!

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Both millennials were quick to learn my Shopify shopping cart platform (reading my process document only once or twice), mastering social media graphic layouts with graphic design website Canva, and writing and coding newsletters in MailChimp. My baby boomer mastered it at a slower rate.

But where she’s great is helping me to rapidly source and quote on décor items for customers. It is a task that requires lateral thinking as well as familiarity with the regional or international names for items. For example, the American treat “cotton candy” is called “fairy floss” in Australia.

I found both millennials much faster at using Google to find products that matched the customer’s original photo emailed with a brief description. But only if it was an exact match.

What my baby boomer lost in speed on Google searches against the millennials, she “won” on knowing the different terms for an item, and for being more creative in knowing what sort of company might offer that product wholesale.

Based on my experience with my two millennials, as well as those in their age group who contact me, I believe this generation is very phone-shy. While they will swipe through Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest updates, and send text messages back and forth at a furious pace, they balk at making a telephone enquiry.

They shuddered when asked to make a real phone call the first few times. Several times daily we call my event rental suppliers directly for date availability on the products we sub-hire from them. The girls were even more reluctant when they had to ring a number of potential suppliers for a detailed quote.

But I don’t think it’s restricted to my two young interns. I am astonished at the number of millennial brides, stylists, and event organizers who dislike speaking on the phone, providing minimal details to hang up as fast as possible. Their frequent terseness and lack of detail on a voicemail message or while speaking, compounds the issue because they have to contact us several times to provide all the information necessary to quote for their event, which wastes time.

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After the May wedding expo, I gave my millennial, who plans to work in events for non-profit organizations, the task of typing up a spreadsheet of the expo stand visitors who had written out their details to subscribe to our newsletter. When the campaign was emailed, over 27 percent of email addresses bounced.

Upon investigating, I discovered that she could not decipher handwriting that, to me, was obvious. For example, she misinterpreted the surname “Farrell” as “Farreu,” and thought a slash through a zero meant the subscriber had scribbled it out, not that it was a number instead of a letter. The same went for the numeral seven, which had a bar through it.

On discussing this with my baby boomer assistant, she explained that millennials use keyboards more than pens; the need for handwriting is uncommon, and because they have not been reading handwritten text for several decades as have generation X and baby boomers, they simply have no real skill in understanding a range of handwriting styles.

Lesson learned. For my next expo, I will allow visitors to enter their details online via an iPad — but any paper entries will be scrutinized and entered by someone from my generation or older.

What have you noticed about the different generations who work for and buy from your business?

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