How to unlock your authentic superpowers at work, regardless of what year you were born.
Which generation is blazing the authenticity trail, lighting the way for people everywhere to stop feeling like they need to leave their “real” personality at the door on their way to the office?
Which generation is getting all the glory for “leading” the authenticity race?
Which generation is resistant to the idea? (Let me guess: Your parents’ generation comes to mind.)
Four incredible, wildly different generations make up the current workforce as we know it today. Historical life events, from World War II to 9/11, combined with our own unique experiences have impacted each of us in ways that unavoidably spill into who we are at work. Meetings comprised of baby boomers and millennials can generate more sparks than a box of fireworks you picked up at a roadside booth when discussions ensue about the best ways to accomplish business objectives.
Our differences might be a sore spot for some, as our older, more traditional corporate employees resist the younger generations' advocacy for streamlining outdated processes, confronting interpersonal issues rather than sweeping them under the rug, or embracing the adoption of tech and automation.
Taking a closer look might reveal that we may have much more in common than we think. But in order to have that kumbaya moment where we all come together and find common ground, it’s important to know what separates us in the first place.
What Drives the Four Generations in the Workplace?
Whether it’s the almost-retired department head hellbent on keeping an archaic process in place or the Gen Zer who shows up late because they had a viral TikTok idea they had to post in the office parking lot, despite their generational weaknesses, everyone has something incredible to bring to the table – what that is and how they do it might be a different story. Here are some characteristics of the generations and what drives them.
Baby Boomers - Referring to the generation born between 1946-1964, Baby Boomers were born during an era of skyrocketing birth rates following World War II. Often the butt of not-knowing-how-to-create-PDF jokes, BBs actually helped to mold America as we know it, being at the forefront of issues like the sexual revolution, the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights movement.
What they value in the workplace: Strong work ethic, competition, discipline
Generation X - Also known as Gen Xers, these classic rockers were born between 1965-1980 and were the OG “latchkey kids” which refers to children who after-school afternoons home alone as dual-income families became more prevalent (you know, before the older generation told the younger generation they’d achieve their dreams of home ownership if they just stopped “splurging” on avocado toast).
What they value in the workplace: Balance, self-sufficiency, resourcefulness, responsibility
Millennials - Born between 1980-2000, the Y2K generation that reached young adulthood at the turn of the century makes up the largest population in the workforce today. This Bagel-Bite, TRL-loving crowd (IYKYK) would only be caught missing Backstreet Boys in the #1 spot the day 9/11 stopped the turning of the globe. Arguably the last generation to have a traditional outdoorsy childhood before social media and gaming took the world by storm, this slightly cynical but dedicated group is known for challenging conventional wisdom and is arguably the first to experience the commencement of the digital age internet while also embodying the unmatched work ethic, independence, and resourcefulness of the generations that precede them, giving them a slight competitive edge in Corporate America (at least if you ask them).
What they value in the workplace: Meaningful motivation, flexibility, equity, passion for learning
Gen Z - These young bucks who graced us with their presence between 1995-2015 are growing up quickly and many of them are taking the professional world (and Snapchat, and TikTok, and.. You get where I’m going) by the horns with their tech-savviness that outshines all others before them. Having grown up during the Great Recession and financial impacts that hit a little too close to home for many, these eco-focused visionaries have a knack for pursuing stability, independence, and growth opportunities in the workplace over pretty much anything else.
What they value in the workplace: Career development, diversity, mental health awareness, transparency, embracing tech
Are Gen Z Professionals Leading the Way for Authenticity in the Workplace?
Gen Z is known for its propensity to foster, and quite frankly, demand transparency and authenticity in the workplace. While they have a bad rap for being a bit more entitled than their predecessors, LinkedIn articles imply Gen Z is leading the authenticity race, but the actual data from our national Impacts of Authenticity in the Workplace study paints a different picture.
In fact, when we asked over a thousand employees how important it was to work for an authentic leader, only 32% of those ages 18-29 strongly agreed that working for an authentic leader was more important now than ever before, compared to 38% of employees ages 30-44.
Employees who are 45-60 years old responded with the most “hell yeses” in that 42% strongly agreed that working for an authentic leader is more important now than ever.
In addition, it was also the older group that ranked “Authentic” highest when asked which word describes the most important characteristic in a leader. Almost 1 in 4 (23%) employees aged 45-60 picked “Authentic” as the top characteristic, compared to 20% of those aged 30-44 and 16% of those aged 18-29.
Here’s the truth: every generation wants to show up authentically at work.
Now whether or not each generation feels empowered to practice it is a different story.
So, if all generations WANT to be authentic at work, what’s stopping them? Considering people who feel they can be authentic at work are landslides happier than those who feel they can’t be authentic at work, you’d think the collective would choose authenticity, and ultimately, their own happiness.
Opinions abound, but I suspect a mix between a fear of rejection, a resistance to change (since, after all, many have fine-tuned their “work personality” to a T over the years) and the lie that “executive presence” – acting like something you’re not when you’re in the presence of big-wigs – should reign supreme at the office.
Discover Your Authenticity Superpower
We know we all WANT to be our authentic selves, but not all of us know how. Luckily, authenticity is not just another buzzword, but a practical, strategic tool that can help professionals do everything from attracting and retaining talent, negotiating with business partners, gaining attention and buy-in from others, building immediate trust, and ultimately, achieving incredible results.
Knowing what skills and talents you have that can be leveraged authentically to improve company culture and your happiness at work is key. If you want to embrace authenticity but don’t know where to start, take my quiz to find out your authenticity superpower!
Don’t let Gen Z steal all the glory. They can have their open-mindedness and ethical consumption, which so many of us are thankful for. As for authenticity, though, we’re all taking our piece of that pie.
Erin Hatzikostas provides keynote speaking, corporate workshops, and executive coaching services to help professionals maximize their careers, modernize their culture, and make more moola by using authenticity as their secret weapon to success.