I come at this question from both an evidence based and humanistic management perspective. As I see it there are 3 keys to motivating employees in any organization.
1. The work has to matter. It has to appeal to the moral imperative we all have. What problems are you solving? What happens if you don’t solve them? Why does solving them matter? And how does solving them help other people? Is there a moral imperative to the work? Or is it just work? Do your assistants know how what they do impacts the larger picture? Or are they clueless about why you asked them to look up an obscure case? Understanding why you are doing what you are doing and how it impacts real people – makes a difference.
2. Is problem solving fun? Or frustrating? All business solves problems. Lawfirms. Solve problems. If everyone is oriented towards solving the same problem, work should be fun. If people are trying to solve different problems and they don’t respect each other – then problem solving won’t be fun. Or effective. This is a leadership issue. How well does the team understanding the ultimate objective and is everyone on the team considered valuable? And able to give input? Or are some people shut out because of their social position within the organization. There is nothing more demoralizing to an employee than having a great idea on how to solve a problem and having your managers ignore you or demean you for even suggesting an alternative. Be careful what you reward and what you punish. Which is why the third key is so important.
3. Is the work environment collegial – or is there bullying? It is pretty much impossible to be well motivated at work when you have a toxic co-worker. A bully in the workplace negatively impacts problem solving. Instead of working for the best outcomes, employees are working to protect themselves from the negative impacts of a co-worker. Law firms are high intensity offices. It isn’t unusual for a pecking order to arise with the secretaries and paralegals and other assistants. Bullying, harassment, must be eliminated if you want highly motivated employees. Even if your work matters, if your workplace isn’t collegial and collaborative and if one individual is able to terrorize others, then you will never be able to create a collaborative and collegial environment where all employees can participate to their full potential.
Take bullying and harassment seriously. I teach how to make bullying and harassment stop using behavioral science techniques. I have experience teaching law firms these techniques. And offer MCLE and CE and continuing education for ALA (CLA) members.