In as ‘the existence of a specialised administrative staff’

In the past century,
the rapid growth of democratisation and industrialisation has deteriorated  people’s faith away from traditional and
charismatic authority to now legal authority, better known as a bureaucracy. Bureaucratic
organisations have had great potential to be effective which has resulted them
to spread throughout society, ‘since the degree of organisational coordination
achieved by bureaucracy cannot be outdone by any other rational principal”
(Lucas 2012,pp.95). Weber emphasised that rationalisation can only be peaked if
organisations follow bureaucratic management. “The needs of mass administration
make it today completely indispensable.  The choice is only between
bureaucracy and dilettantism in the field of administration” (Weber 1921,pp.244)


For the
purpose of this essay, bureaucracy is defined as ‘the existence of a
specialised administrative staff’ (Scott 1994). According to Weber (1921),
bureaucracies are goal-orientated organisations based and developed on rational
convention to efficiently reach their targets. Weber’s bureaucratic management
theory concentrates on key characteristics of an ideal bureaucracy; to obtain
the highest degree of efficiency from a technical perspective. The aim of this
essay is to examine the effectiveness and rationality of these characteristics:
division of labour, hierarchy, formal rules and regulations and impersonality.

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The first
characteristic of Weber’s bureaucratic management theory is the division of labour
(Grint and Maclean, 2005). Division of labour is an economic concept popularised
by Adam Smith which  consists of breaking
down the production process and then assigning employees to work in one
isolated area of production. According to Smith (1776), under this regime, it saved
time from workers transitioning to other jobs and the close association to one
area of work leads to innovation and invention of new techniques, hence
enabling workers to become experts. This specialisation of the workforce had
resulted into significant improvements in efficiency as tasks were completed faster
with fewer mistakes, ‘the greatest improvement in the
productive powers of labour… seem to have been the effects of the division of
labour'(Smith 1776 pp.13). Henry Ford put this concept into perspective by
revolutionising the production process of the car via the assembly line, where
small batch production was extensively used. Even conglomerates today such as Apple
have adopted the concept by designing their products in California while
producing in China. This signifies products of today such as the iPhone has
innumerable examples of division of labour, hence elucidating the importance of
this characteristic in rational administrations.


the division of labour may create new inefficiencies for administrations in the
long run. Marx (1867) criticised that the division of labour brings about
alienation due to the monotonous repetition of tasks. This may then result to a
dehumanising effect where the worker loses ‘all sense of responsibility
for the conduct of the business and to lose with it his ability to calculate
his own advantage’ (Sumner 1883). Therefore, as workers’ skills are supressed
they may struggle to adapt their skill-set to evolving production methods.  Hence, with the current constant evolvement
of organisations due to technology, this may cause efficiency in the long run
to be hindered. Moreover, the division of labour can increase the risks of the
entire production process to a halt. Durkheim (1893) explains this negative
aspect by  justifying workers to be too
interdependent. Therefore, if one isolated area of production is stopped, the
rise in interdependence may result the whole production system to be
disrupted.  In hindsight, the extent to
which the division of labour may improve efficiency depends on how management is
able to develop the skills of workers align with market adjustments and,
control interdependence amongst employees.


The second
characteristic of Weber’s ideal bureaucracy is a hierarchy of authority
(Griffin 2002). This line of authority is the chain of command that flows from
the top to the bottom of an administration, ‘unconditional
compliance of people, resting upon their belief that it is legitimate for
superior to impose his will on them’ (Weber
1921).  According to Weber (1921), a
hierarchy of authority will lead to effective coordination and accountability.
This is because a clearly defined hierarchy establishes a trail for every task
and activity conducted within an organisation. Therefore, if errors do occur it
can be traced to determine who is responsible. Weber notes that the
establishment of managerial accountability was not to accuse employees of being
incompetent but to find the fault and amend it as efficiently as possible.
Furthermore, adopting the hierarchal structure outlines clear communication
direction between managers and subordinates. This serves to unify departments
of the organisation which helps to effectively distribute tasks and their
better execution. Hence, this shows the hierarchal structure can be extremely
effective in administrating an organisation which has been reflected in
organisations such as the army and the government.


Although, the increased complexity of multinational organisations has forced many to adopt a new structure that Drucker (1974) called “federal decentralisation.” This is because excessive layering of large organisations may lead to communication barriers, disunity and a lack of innovation. Dontigney (2017) criticises that the quality and speed of internal communication may suffer as communications are approved through the layers of the hierarchy, resulting into delays and confusion. Also, departmental specialisation may result in no shared jargon amongst departments hence resulting to communication barriers. In hindsight, this may reduce the encouragement of workers to actively share information and work together. Robin (2010) further elaborates this negative consequence by outlining it may prevent employees contributing to decisions, which results errors to be unreported and innovation to be hampered. Therefore, if the hierarchal structure cannot innovate to new market demands against its competitors, the organisation is often marginalised. In this case, it may be advised for large organisations to adopt Drucker’s structure of federal decentralisation where, “each unit has its own management which, in effect, runs its own autonomous business” (Drucker 1974, pp.572). Hence the extent to which Weber’s adoption of a
hierarchal structure is rational for an administration largely depends with its


A common and
highly emphasised characteristic of bureaucracy is that it is administered by
written formal rules and regulations. Mondy (1988) and Weber (1921) referred to
the idea that cultural tradition should not be found in bureaucratic
organisations. To put their idea into perspective, they proposed formal rules
must be established to bring individuals of different cultures and backgrounds
together under the same formal umbrella. By this principle, the administration
can maintain a level of discipline as the rules and regulations can be learnt
and applied by all employees. In doing so, this facilitates consistency amongst
the actions of employees as they know what is expected from them (Robbin 2010).
Hence, the establishment of rules and regulations can ensure the behaviour of
hundreds of employees to be uniformed, predicted and coordinated, while the absence
of rules may bring concerns of distrust due to a lack of assurance of workers’
actions. Therefore, formal rules provide greater stability and continuity in
executing decisions and transactions for the organisation.  Thus, the characteristic of establishing
formal rules and regulations in an administration can be seen to inevitable,
hence their presence is completely rational.

However, the establishment of
written formal rules and regulations can be counterproductive. This is because Weber’s
ideology of extreme commitment to rules and regulations may lead to
bureaucratic rigidity. As formal rules govern the actions of workers in the
organisation, it is likely to restrict their freedom to make independent decisions
(Robbin 2010). This may result workers to be only compensated for doing what
they are told and not for their initiative. In doing so, goal displacement may
occur as workers are more interested in applying rules and regulations rather
than achieving the firm’s targets (Mahfooz 2015). Furthermore, Merton (1957) critiqued
that if the administration was highly dependent on rules and regulations, any
changes in the business landscape may cause the organisation to waste time and
incur monetary costs by drafting new rules. This is known as red tape costs.
Therefore, if the red tape costs incurred are greater than the benefits
received from the rules and regulations, we can state the administration is in an
irrational state. Thus, the extent to which formal rules and regulations is
rational depends on their quantity and how rigorously the organisation follows
its own laws.

Impersonality is known to be the
most controversial characteristic of Weber’s bureaucratic management theory.
Weber (1921) explained that by adopting an impersonal nature when rules and regulations
are applied; personalities, sentiments and emotions are deemphasised or
ignored. In doing so, decisions are executed on the basis of rational factors,
not personal. This ensures equality amongst employees as they are protected
from arbitrary actions of their superiors. Therefore, as employees feel
regarded and equally treated it may increase their motivation and therefore
their progress and ambition to succeed in their task. This greater commitment to
work may then boost productivity and efficiency (Martin 1998). Hence, this
proves impersonality can be used effectively to discourage favouritism and
biases in order to avoid irrational decisions being made in an administration (Sara

On the other hand, this
bureaucratic trait has been criticised for creating alienation and disloyalty
amongst employees. Caulkin (1988) specifies that the impersonal nature of a bureaucracy
is ‘constructed round the post
rather than the person and the ease with which it can be swung behind unsocial
or even pathological ends.’ This outlines Weber’s characteristic overemphasises
on process rather than purpose. Therefore, even if long-term employees have personal
issues requiring them to take temporarily leave, they will be denied under
Weber’s bureaucratic management. Thus, after many years of loyal service, the
organisation’s lack of consideration may seem to be selfish and unappreciative.
Employees may then feel like dehumanised objects which may result to a loss of
loyalty to their superiors and organisation. Moreover, Hochshild’s (1983) work
explored how certain organisations require expressions of emotions at work to
maximise productivity. This is reemphasised in the Hawthorne experiments where
it was proven that worker’s productivity will increase if their opinions,
emotions and thoughts are respected and taken into consideration by the
organisation (Hart 1943). Currently, many organisations in the financial sector
have created initiatives to exemplify their values of openness and
connectedness to their employees, which cannot be done with adopting an
impersonal nature. Thus, as
studies and real-life organisations have shown favourable working environments
to be a key factor in improving efficiency and productivity, the extent to
which Weber’s impersonality is rational may be unfavourable in an

Since administrations
aim to maximise rationality to fulfil their social and economic goals, it is
vital for the organisation to comprehend its own traits to become a well driven,
organised entity. Weber conveyed what a formal organisation should consist of:
division of labour, hierarchy, formal rules and regulations and impersonality, offering
an efficient and rational administrative system to society. The analysis of these
characteristics mirrored significant advantages of predictability, equality and
accountability. Although a world solely run according to Weber’s bureaucratic management
would be a miserable place to live in due to alienation and dehumanisation. However,
as organisations are evolving continuously due to technological and
sociological reasons, it is still very difficult to accurately theorise what a
rational administration should consist of. Due to this, many believe Weber’s
bureaucratic theory has actually provided the foundation of a rational administration.


 Bureaucracy has been an
indispensable part of modern life, illustrating that it is a rational form of
administration to a great extent. Although, the characteristics of current
bureaucratic organisations have been altered and adapted to modern life, thus, the
extent to which Weber’s ideal bureaucracy leads to the most rational form of
administration is questionable.