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Lost status

One day, Anand and Pauline were in a meeting room discussing an issue that had arisen with a Mãori community in the Bay of Islands. A plan to develop a new community centre had fallen foul of local council regulations because of concerns about the safety of the site on top of a cliff. The two lawyers had become firm friends since joining the firm within the same week two years ago.

‘This has been a fantastic career move for me’, enthused Anand. ‘Working for a distinguished law firm really opens doors. Mark and Cathy have been really supportive and winning some of the cases we have taken on is incredibly gratifying. I recall that time we won the case over the toxic fertilisers used on a farm near the Waikato River. Both Mark and Cathy came to court in Hamilton for a week to give me a hand.’‘I am not so sure’, responded Pauline. ‘I was happy when they agreed to pay off my student loan when I joined. That really helped, so I should be more grateful. Working with Mãori communities and businesses is great but sometimes I get the feeling that I am just a token representative. There are only two female lawyers here too—it still feels like an old boys’ club to me. I have never been invited to the O’Connell Club for drinks with the grumpy old men, though they seem to take all the male lawyers there. But I am not even sure I want to go. 

There are only a few women or Mãori members.’‘Well, I’ve never been invited either’, replied Anand. ‘And I would not go. I don’t drink alcohol. And I heard Brian complain that he went a few times on Fridays but felt awkward there, and he didn’t like it that he felt he couldn’t leave till 9 p.m. His wife really moaned at him. I must say, they do demand a lot from us. I had to miss my son’s soccer tournament last weekend.’‘Well, I don’t seem to have time for much of a social life myself’, Pauline remarked. ’I seem to get out of here well after seven most days and I have spent a lot of time out of town on business this year. I have asked for some help on cases, but when I spoke to Jack about it he was very curt with me. Said we were too short-staffed. Yet when the partners need more staff they even hire temps.’

Communication issues
Meanwhile, after a meeting, a few of the paralegal staff had stayed behind in one of the meeting rooms to talk about their jobs. Anna Ivanova was clearly unhappy. ‘When I joined I was told that that I would get a salary increase if I had a good performance review. So how good is 4 per cent? That is barely above the cost of living increase everyone else got. And since I got that contract for my brother’s property company, you would think I would have been given a bonus for that alone. Telling me I had done a good job is one thing—being properly rewarded is quite another.’ What she did not say was that she had given her brother some confidential information about one of his competitors, who was also a client of the firm. 

Jack had suspected this but could not prove it. He had, however, voiced his opinion to Owen,who had said nothing about it to Anna.‘So you think that is bad!’ exclaimed Mai. ‘I got no increase except the 2 per cent everyonegot. You don’t even know what they expect from you or how you are going to be judged inthese performance reviews. In mine Mr Wynne said that I was too slow to process contracts and that I make too many mistakes. When I asked him what mistakes I had made he said hehad seen quite a few but had just corrected them himself. I don’t know whether to believehim or not. And when I asked if I could handle the McArthur contract myself he told me I did not have enough experience. He did not say one nice thing about what I have done.

He just dumps work on me then goes off to play golf!’ Candy chipped in, ‘I don’t think things are so bad here. We have a lot of fun. The Sunday hike and picnic was a great idea of Cathy’s and it was really funny when they put ants down
Pauline’s top. Boy, did she squeal.’‘Well, she was really angry’, Anna remarked, ‘and embarrassed too. She didn’t think it was so funny. And Anand did not like it when someone made a joke about the food he had brought.’

However, nine months later, John was still managing only four of the staff and the restructuring of the firm had not taken place. Owen had said this was on hold until people had settled into the new offices, but after three months in the new premises, despite several inquiries, John was still not convinced it would go ahead. He had also believed that when he had enrolled for an MBA his fees would be paid by the law firm. He based this on a conversation with Jack, also in the club, about supporting him financially. However, when Jack saw that the qualification would cost over $30 000 he said he had never agreed to pay such a high amount. He said that as far as he knew university fees were usually only about $6000 p.a. and that is the most the firm would pay.
Discussion questions
1. a. Identify the reasons for employees resisting the change to an open-plan office approach.
b. Explain what the partners might have done better to have minimised the resistance.
2. a. Analyse the barriers to communication (‘noise’) that appear to exist in the law firm.
b. Discuss how they could be overcome.
3. a. Discuss the sources of power the partners and others appear to have and the impact this may have on other employees.
b. What influence tactics have been used by some of the partners and employees and how effective might they have been.

Lost status

Cheetah and Whynne law firm has been doing well, and due to the growth, there was the need to change the location of the law firm and also change the interior structure of the firm. The change was not received well by some staff members, and they were against the change. The reasons for the employees resisting the open plan office approach include;

Lost status.

The senior associates in the firm claim that they have lost their status in the organization because they do not have their offices. This makes the senior associates feel that they are not given the much respect they deserve and this will affect their performance and even force others to move to other firms where they will feel more valued. This will affect employee retention and lead to increased employee turnover (Marr, and Thau, 2014, p.230). The status in the office enables members to get the needed respect and to lose the offices and to work in the same environment as the rest of the employees is causing fear to some members that they will not be respected as when they had their offices.

Poor online booking system.

The online booking system was to be used to book meeting rooms to hold a confidential meeting. The online booking system employed to be used sometimes failed and this affected the operations of the business as the senior associates were not able to discuss confidential matters with their clients. They argued that if they had their offices, such problems could be avoided because if the system does not improve, the business may lose clients.

Encourage grapevine in the office.

The new open office plan approach according to the senior associates in the organization will encourage conversations that may affect the operations of the business. This is because friends in the office will have all the time to discuss whatever they wished and this might affect the performance of the business (E. Smith, et al.2014, p.117). The senior associates claim that law is a serious business and such an office setup will not provide the needed environment to improve the operations of the business.

Erosion of privacy

This is where people are not able to talk freely because of fear of other people or authority (Acquisti, et al.2015, p.118). Open plan office approach introduced by the younger partners prevented the employees from freely conversing with their loved ones because everyone in the office was able to hear the conversation. The employees claimed that one had to go outside to pick a call and this wasted a lot of time. The employee also claimed that they usually feel as if the younger partners are spying on them and this affects their operations as they are not comfortable when performing their duties. Some lawyers also claimed that they cannot discuss private matters over the mobile phones with their clients and this was affecting their operations.

Other employees claim that Cathy made all the decisions for herself and they were not consulted.  Lack of consultation encourages change resistance, especially where the employee does not like the new setup (Joseph-Williams, et al.2014, p.302). The employees claim that they are too far from shops and that cafes on that side of the town are very expensive and this will affect their finances. Other employees claimed that they the new open office plan cannot allow them to see outside.

Poor online booking system


To minimize the resistance, the partners should have consulted the employees. Consultation is a method that could have been used to ensure that the partners do not face the resistance from employees being experienced (Thornberg, 2014, p.196). The consultation could have given the employees a chance to participate in the decision-making process. This could have enabled the employees to give their opinions about the anticipated change of office setup. The employees feel valued and that the partners cared about their work environment. The feedback provided by the employees could have enabled the partners to come up with an office plan that favored all the employees and this could have helped to minimize the resistance (Klonek, et al.2014, p.348). Through consultation, the partners could have had an opportunity to explain to the employees why they wanted such an office set up and clarify issues that could encourage resistance.

The partners also should have used participatory leadership. This refers to a managerial style that enables the employees and the leaders to make decisions together (McKnight, 2013, p.103).  The input of employees in this kind of leadership is highly valued and must be considered before making the organization decisions. The employees are briefed on the issues affecting the companies and then they provide their feedback. The partners should have practiced this kind of leadership to minimize the resistance. This could have allowed the employees to vote on whether they wanted such change or not. The decisions are made based on the opinion of the majority and this helps to minimize employee resistance.

The barriers to communication in the law firm are due to various factors which include;

Workplace design problems.

The employees claim that the open plan office approach is affecting communication in the firm (Titi Amayah, 2013, p.463). The lawyers in the organization cannot discuss confidential matters with their clients because other employees in the office are listening. This affects communication between the lawyers and their clients, and this will affect the operation the law firm because, during the discussion, the lawyer may not be able to acquire all the needed information to serve the client effectively. The online booking system employed in the firm is not working properly, and this is affecting the allocation of meeting rooms to discuss private matters with the clients, and this will affect the operations of the firm.

Lack of attention and interest.

The senior partners in this firm do not give their employee the needed attention that will enable them to discuss matters affecting them. The employees calm that they do not even know what is expected from them because they are not given feedback concerning their performances. The lack of attention and interest by the partners makes it very hard for the employees to communicate to them the issues affecting them which affect their performances (Bargiela-Chiappini, et al.2013, p.26). This prevents Mr. Wynne from telling Mai the specific mistakes she makes so that she can try not to repeat them.

Lack of source credibility.

Encourage grapevine in the office

The partners in this firm tell jokes and the employees do not seem amused because they do not understand the source of the joke. The partners also try to engage female employees in the office on rugby test match and they could not communicate because the women in the firm do not watch rugby matches. This makes it very hard for the conversation to take place because the participants are not conversant with the source of the conversation (Bargiela-Chiappini, et al.2013, p.26).

Status differences.

This barrier is brought about by differences in organizational hierarchy (Leonardi, and Rodriguez-Lluesma, 2013, p.487). In the law firm partners do not interact with their employees well and they even refused to share the workspace with the rest of the employees and this becomes a barrier to communication. The senior members of the firm are invited to the club by the partners and the other employees are ignored. This makes it very hard for the employees to communicate their grievances to the senior partners. The senior partners do not advise the employees on how to perform their tasks, they just dump the work on their desks and go on to play golf. This makes it very hard for information to flow to employees in a different organizational hierarchy because the status differences prevent downwards or upward communication.


This firm has no established channel of communication and this forces employees to result to informal means of communications between themselves (Mitchell, G., 2013, p.35). Grapevine is being used in this firm as a way of communication, and this prevents employees and the partners from using formal means of communication to communicate their grievances and concerns that could affect the operations of the business.


There are various ways to overcome barriers to communication, and they include

Establishing communication channels

This will make it easy for the employee to communicate their grievances to the relevant parties. The company should also place suggestion boxes in strategic areas where employees can give their opinions which can be considered during the decision-making process (Weller, et al.2014, p.152). The communication channel will encourage the communication in the organization and help streamline matters that could lead to poor performance.

Having empathy.

The partners should develop empathy and show concern for the welfare of the employees. This will help the employee to feel comfortable when communicating and this will improve the flow of the information. Empathy will enable the partners to want to know the needs of the employee, and this will trigger conversations which will encourage communication in the organization (Singer, and Klimecki, 2014, p.R877).

Providing specific feedback.

The partners should provide feedback to their employees so that they can be aware of the aspects of their work which they need to improve on (Weller, et al.2014, p.152). This will make the employees comfortable when communicating with their seniors as they know the partners want them to be perfect in their duties. Being specific will enable the employees to improve on the specified area. Providing the feedback will also enable the partners to communicate with the employees, hence improving communication in the firm.

Erosion of privacy

The partners in this firm possess various sources of power which include;

  Legitimate power.

This is the power that is acquired as a result of the position a person holds in an organization (Pierro, et al.2013, p.1128). This is evident where the senior associates of the firm feel that their status in the organization will be lost because they do not have their offices. The person holding this kind of power is supposed to lead his subordinates, and if he makes poor decisions, the organization will fail. The employees follow the instruction given by their manager like in this case where the young partners decided that the firm should move to a new location and have a different office set up. Such decisions can improve the performance of the firm or demotivate the staff like in our case and lead to poor performance.

Reward power.

This is the power that is gained because of one’s ability to reward employees, improve their compensation and incentives (Pulles, et al.2014, p.22). The senior partners in the firm hold this kind of power to increase the salary of the employees who register good performance. Some employees have received two percent while others have received an increase of four percent. The firm’s accountant was promised to assume the role of a general manager of the organization but that has not been the case. The partners in this firm have misused their reward power as they just promise and they never fulfill their promises. This has adverse effects as it demoralizes employees leading to an increase in employee turnover which can result in disruption of the operations of the firm.


Partners and employees in the firm have used various influence tactics which include;

Legitimating tactics.

The influence is based on the positional power someone holds in the organization (Ura, 2014, p.118). The partners have used this kind of influence to ensure that they accept to work in an open plan office approach which has been implemented in the organization. Although the partners have faced some resistance from the employees, the influence has been effective except for some few challenges affecting the employees.

Rational persuasion.

 This occurs where the person uses logical arguments and facts to convince other people that the taken point of view is the best option (Clarke, 2013, p.32). The young partners in the firm led by Cathy decided to ensure that the company moved to another location and changed the interior design of the office. Cathy convinced the employees and the other senior staff the open plan office approach was the best alternative because it was going to encourage teamwork and collaboration that could enable the creation of positive organizational culture. The influence was effective as the firm moved to the new location and implemented the open plan office approach although some employees and staff felt that the changes were not needed.


Acquisti, A., Brandimarte, L. and Loewenstein, G., 2015. Privacy and human behavior in the age of information. Science, 347(6221), pp.509-514.

Bargiela-Chiappini, F., Nickerson, C. and Planken, B., 2013. What is business discourse?. In Business Discourse (pp. 3-44). Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Clarke, S., 2013. Safety leadership: A meta?analytic review of transformational and transactional leadership styles as antecedents of safety behaviours. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 86(1), pp.22-49.

  1. Smith, G., J. Barnes, K. and Harris, C., 2014. A learning approach to the ethical organization. The Learning Organization, 21(2), pp.113-125.

Joseph-Williams, N., Elwyn, G. and Edwards, A., 2014. Knowledge is not power for patients: a systematic review and thematic synthesis of patient-reported barriers and facilitators to shared decision making. Patient education and counseling, 94(3), pp.291-309.

Klonek, F.E., Lehmann-Willenbrock, N. and Kauffeld, S., 2014. Dynamics of resistance to change: a sequential analysis of change agents in action. Journal of Change Management, 14(3), pp.334-360.

Leonardi, P.M. and Rodriguez-Lluesma, C., 2013. Occupational stereotypes, perceived status differences, and intercultural communication in global organizations. Communication Monographs, 80(4), pp.478-502.

Marr, J.C. and Thau, S., 2014. Falling from great (and not-so-great) heights: How initial status position influences performance after status loss. Academy of Management Journal, 57(1), pp.223-248.

McKnight, L.L., 2013. Transformational leadership in the context of punctuated change. Journal of Leadership, Accountability and Ethics, 10(2), p.103.

Mitchell, G., 2013. Selecting the best theory to implement planned change: Improving the workplace requires staff to be involved and innovations to be maintained. Gary Mitchell discusses the theories that can help achieve this. Nursing Management, 20(1), pp.32-37.

Pierro, A., Raven, B.H., Amato, C. and Bélanger, J.J., 2013. Bases of social power, leadership styles, and organizational commitment. International Journal of Psychology, 48(6), pp.1122-1134.

Pulles, N.J., Veldman, J., Schiele, H. and Sierksma, H., 2014. Pressure or pamper? The effects of power and trust dimensions on supplier resource allocation. Journal of supply chain management, 50(3), pp.16-36.

Singer, T. and Klimecki, O.M., 2014. Empathy and compassion. Current Biology, 24(18), pp.R875-R878.

Thornberg, R., 2014. Consultation barriers between teachers and external consultants: A grounded theory of change resistance in school consultation. Journal of educational and psychological consultation, 24(3), pp.183-210

Titi Amayah, A., 2013. Determinants of knowledge sharing in a public sector organization. Journal of Knowledge Management, 17(3), pp.454-471.

Ura, J.D., 2014. Backlash and legitimation: Macro political responses to Supreme Court decisions. American Journal of Political Science, 58(1), pp.110-126.

Weller, J., Boyd, M. and Cumin, D., 2014. Teams, tribes and patient safety: overcoming barriers to effective teamwork in healthcare. Postgraduate medical journal, 90(1061), pp.149-154.

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