“Why would I have to do what my boss asks me to do?” The student who asked this question of his friend was quite serious. Though it seems incredulous, with some thought, that question is not so easy to answer. The Millennial’s sincere curiosity wasn’t meant to be disrespectful. Yet the perception from most people who hear this question would be quite the opposite.

The Millennials make up 35% of today’s workforce, making them the largest generation in the workplace. That number will only grow bigger. They need to be challenged to take on some of the world’s most critical issues and be instrumental in solving them. Rather than villainize Millennials, they need to be engaged.

That cannot happen without understanding who the Millennials are.

Here are 6 things that are important to know.

  1. Parents as peers. Parenting has become “peerenting.” Of Millennials, 90 percent say they have a close relationship with their parents. These parents are very invested in their kids’ lives. Millennials have values congruent with their parents, whereas Boomers rebelled against their parents.
  2. Technology as a mindset. With regard to technology, Milliennials have ianything. You name it, they’ll get it. Some GenXers are able users. But most Millennials are turbo-users. As toddlers, their favorite mouse wasn’t “Mickey.” It was the one on the desk next to their computer.
  3. Teams as a working system. Millennials have been teamplayers throughout their childhood. In constant contact with others, they have an enormous capacity to work together. Teamwork is the nature of the future workforce, and Millennials are up to the task.

For an idea of what the workplace of the future will look like, Rob Carter, chief information officer at FedEx,  suggests observing the online game World of Warcraft. In this game, teams embark on fast-paced quests, which involve a complicated series of obstacles. The team leader is the one who contributes the most. When someone else steps up to contribute more, that individual becomes the leader. This game is intensely collaborative, constantly demanding, and often surprising. Carter explains, “It takes exactly the same skill set people will need more of in the future to collaborate on work projects, and kids are already doing it.”

  1. Work as a state of mind. For Millennials work is a state of mind, not a place to be. Yes, they lack experience. And true, some can have an inflated opinion of their abilities. This is why Millennials need instant and ongoing feedback. They need to be challenged to excel. That’s the downside, and it’s not that bad. The upside is that they are techno-wizzards, quick learners, resourceful, and hard workers. Does this sound like someone you’d like to hire?
  2. Contribution as a priority. So how do you keep them engaged? Millennials need structure–give it to them, but allow their imprint. Ask for their ideas, and, when possible, use them. If they make a mistake, and they will, don’t chastise them. A better way is to ask for their feedback, “What did you learn from this?” Let them discover how to solve the problem.

Connect the younger generation to the future of your organization. People join companies and leave managers. Millennials are quick to perceive and judge when a manager is not on their side–uncaring, demanding, and micromanaging. They will leave that situation in a heartbeat.

  1. Authenticity above all else. Celebrity is the enemy of authenticity. Positional authority and titles tend to detract from a Millennial’s perception of authenticity. To this generation de-elevating positional authority is not a sign of disrespect. Instead, informality is a sign of respect. Trust that and make them feel important. Maya Angelou said it beautifully—“I’ve learned that people forget what you’ve said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Give Millennials what they need to feel good—so you can tap into their incredible potential to reap results now and in the years ahead.