The Psychological Drivers of Bureaucracy: Protecting the Societal Goals of an Organization
This chapter examines the psychological drivers of bureaucracy and the ways to prevent bureaucracy. It finds that bureaucracy is a recurring theme in most organizations (Janssen, Wimmer, & Deljoo, 2015). The reason it is common in many companies, even in non-bureaucratic organizations, is that it is highly beneficial in some circumstances. It can increase work satisfaction and reduce the feelings of alienation and stress. Despite having numerous benefits, the downsides of bureaucracy outweigh the upsides.
The first driver of bureaucracy is habits. Habits are formed through the repetition of certain behaviors. The first time one encounters a situation, they may not know what to do. But after a few times of practice, they respond automatically to learned behavior. The behavioral patterns one repeats often become automatic when faced with a similar situation. Because habits require minimum cognitive effort, most responses to situations are habitual. The just stated explains in part why breaking the bureaucratic mindset is very difficult in organizations.
The second driver of bureaucracy is authoritarianism. Authority is the ability to influence, create, and maintain oneness in an environment. It eliminates all sources of diversity and focusses on maximizing sameness. Authoritarianism is a trait that is manifested in some situations and not in others. Individuals are more likely to exhibit authoritarian behavior if they are brought into an environment that requires them to act. Bureaucracy is a form of authoritarianism.
One of the ways to prevent bureaucracy is promoting worker professionalism. Workers should not feel inadequate. Instead, they should be empowered to contribute to the realization of the organization goals. While bureaucracy is a problem that affects many organizations, it is a problem that has effective protective measures.
Janssen, M., Wimmer, M. A., & Deljoo, A. (2015). Policy practice and digital science: Integrating complex systems, social simulation and public administration in policy research. Cham: Springer
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