Think back to when you were a kid, to the hours and hours you could spend lost in an activity: digging a hole in the backyard just to see how deep you could dig, building an enormous castle from Legos, trying to save the princess in Super Mario Bros. Whatever it was for you, there was no fame or fortune promised, and yet you persevered undaunted, even enthusiastic. You were in a state of flow.

It’s the place we do our best work, and not coincidentally, the place we feel most satisfied and purposeful. If it’s easy for children to attain this state, why is it so hard for adults—and perhaps especially, adults at their jobs—to get there?

And, more practically speaking, how, as a manager, can you get your employees there?

Enter the Quest

According to Jeffrey Davis, a creativity consultant and author, the answer lies in cultivating a questing mindset. Fortunately for employers, even those with burnt-out employees, this does not require the employee leaving to find their personal passion in life. What Davis says is that employees can treat their jobs like a quest—finding a new perspective that can help them see their work as part of a larger narrative in their lives, one where they can seek something, and in the process, find meaning and mastery.

As Davis describes it, this shift in attitude first requires seeing the challenges and risks innate to work as opportunities for problem-solving, skill adoption and personal growth.

How Employers Can Help

Start with your own quest

At first, you yourself—whether you’re in the C-suite or in HR—need to acknowledge that you have a quest of your own: how to solve the problem of disengaged, dissatisfied or just plain burnt-out employees. You might do well to go through the process yourself first, so that you can come to your employees with humility and authenticity instead of coming across as authoritarian.

First, begin by acknowledging and stating the problem, preferably with as little judgment as possible. For example: My employees seem listless and unhappy, they don’t seem to care about the work and the success of the business.

Assume that your employees have a rational reason for behaving as they do, and that it’s not laziness, lack of intelligence or education, or a malicious desire to undermine your business. Always begin by giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Next, enter a period of observation. Before prescribing solutions or changing policies, get next to your employees and their managers. Watch them working. Listen to what they’re saying. Really listen, with an open mind and a nonjudgmental stance.

Once you feel confident that you have observed your workplace, it’s now time to ask yourself a set of reflective questions:

  • What are the primary problems, as I’ve observed them?
  • How might I or the existing culture have created any or all of these problems?
  • How can I share my vision for how the company and the culture could work better?
  • How can I identify resources to help me change the culture and support my employees to find their own quests?
  • How do I deal, successfully and in a healthy way, with my own feelings of disengagement?

If you’ve gotten this far on your quest, you may begin to detect your own mindset shifting, finding quests where before there were none. Additionally, you will begin to feel passionate about helping your employees develop authentic engagement and a real sense of purpose on the job. You might also be developing an even greater sense of autonomy and influence, which Davis notes is essential for thriving in the workplace.

Helping Employees to Begin their Own Quests

Davis has another “questing question” that can help you as you begin the work of reaching and engaging your employees: “What new skills or new knowledge do my employees need so they can discover their own quests, and therefore increase engagement?”

Having been on a recent quest of your own, you likely have some fresh insights on this very topic. RedCritter Connecter can bring your plans to life by giving you ways to encourage engagement and hand over autonomy and influence to your employees. You can start small with a test team so that you can refine your approach. Then roll out RedCritter to more teams or the whole business.

Some good questions to help you begin:

  • How can I help create the conditions that foster a questing mindset?
  • How can I gamify the workplace such that questing happens more naturally?
  • How can I minimize workplace distractions, which disrupt flow and the problem-solving/creative process?
  • How might I empower any employee to help any other employee find meaning and mastery in their work?
  • How might I reward a questing mindset without relying on extrinsic motivation, which undermines intrinsic motivation?


Finding the Flow

Though it may begin slowly, any employee’s deepening engagement and shift in mindset should have broad impacts throughout the company; first with his or her peers, and then in wider and wider circles as more individuals begin immersing themselves in a quest. To be sure, this is not an overnight shift. It’s the kind of change that takes place with quiet, space and time for the changes to go beyond the superficial. Trust needs to be built up. Resources need to be put into place. Policies must support employees as they find their flow.

But everyone has the kid inside who wants to dig all the way to China, just because. That kid knows how to do the work, and with a little help, can be coaxed into inhabiting the adult who now works at your company.