Bureaucracies are seen as an ideal type of formal organization. Max Weber, who pioneered the field of sociology at the beginning of the 20th century, outlined the four key characteristics of bureaucracy. According to Weber (2015), a bureaucratic organization has a clear hierarchy of authority, division of labor, explicit rules regarding standard operating procedures, and impersonality. For this paper, two individuals working in bureaucracies were interviewed. G. works for a large private clinic as a general practitioner (GP), a medical doctor who treats chronic and acute diseases and delivers preventive care. G. is surrounded by other health workers (ophthalmologists, gynecologists, dentists, and others) and employees in administrative positions (call center operators and human resources managers). The second interviewee, S., teaches at one of the outlets of a big language school chain. She works alongside other teachers as well as administrative staff (call center managers, sales managers, and others).
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Both organizations can be defined as bureaucracies since they fit the key criteria described above. The clinic and the language school have a clear hierarchy of authority. G. is supervised by the head of her department, and A. is supervised by her manager. These individuals in management positions are also part of the hierarchy where they have people control them. There is a clear division of labor: G. is a GP with a predefined set of responsibilities; she is not obliged to make appointments or organize shifts. Similarly, A. is a teacher of French and German; she does not have to take up any of the existing management roles.
The clinic and the language school have explicit rules regarding standard operating procedures. For G., it is the assessment of a patient, diagnosis, the development of a treatment plan, and logging of information into the common database. The school where S. teaches has its own approaches to language acquisition. Because of that, S. has to plan her classes according to the selected methods and only with the textbooks that are approved by the administration. In both organizations, the rules trump personal relationships, feelings, and opinions. In other words, the clinic and the language school are characterized by impersonality. On the one hand, the superiority of rules helps to maintain order and control employees. On the other hand, when the human factor is neglected, some employees may experience frustration and job dissatisfaction.
Both G. and S. have mixed feelings about working in bureaucracies. On the bright side, they appreciate that the organizations have a clear structure. They receive enough mentorship and supervision to guide their work processes without feeling lost and confused. However, the impersonality of these two bureaucracies is what causes G. and S.’s distress from time to time. G. says that the clinic tries to boost efficiency at the expense of its workers. For example, there is only a limited amount of time that doctors can use on one patient. S. is not happy about the limitations of her curriculum as it sometimes fails to serve the interests of clients. Both G. and S. try to overcome the challenges of bureaucracy by forming friendly relationships in the workplace. The interviewees admit that being surrounded by people who understand you provides the needed sense of relief. Besides, having friends at work means that there are people who are ready to help you without judging you or taking measures.
Weber, M. (2015). Bureaucracy. In Working in America (pp. 29-34). Routledge.