The sociologist Max Weber wrote about it a hundred years ago.
To put simply, a bureaucracy is an organized administration (i.e. the Government) or group of individuals who are characterized by a hierarchy of rules, duties, or authority. Strict rules are often placed within bureaucracies, and individuals on the lower end of the “pyramid” will be required to follow them more consistently than individuals on the upper end.
We can list many examples of bureaucracy. It can take place within a school district or corporation, but tend to be quite common in government administrations. There are a lot of negative connotations associated with bureaucracies, most of which revolve around the idea that they are inefficient, wasteful, and overall, unreliable.
Bureaucracies often work in a pyramid-like structure, with many more (and less powerful) employees at the bottom of the chain. At the top of the pyramid, bureaucracies house top officials and management executives. One of the major characteristics associated with government bureaucracies is that the lower you go on the pyramid, the more you’ll be subject to the rules and regulations of that specific administration.
In the following sections, we’ll talk about the more common characteristics associated with modern-day government and corporation bureaucracies:
Characteristic #1: Hierarchical Structure: All bureaucracies tend to have some form of structure that is controlled by separate levels of power. Each level is essentially responsible for the level below it, and the pattern continues all the way down.
Characteristic #2: Strict Rules: Bureaucracies tend to have a lot of strict rules that need to be followed more consistently by individuals at the bottom of the chain. Major administration rules or changes are often made by those in the upper level of the bureaucracy.
Characteristic #3: Structure: A bureaucracy is only as relevant as the organization of individuals that it controls. For this reason, you’ll often find that a bureaucracy is confined into a specific administration, and the individuals within that administration are specialists who are skilled in that particular field.
Characteristic #4: Long-Term Goals: A bureaucracy will typically have a mission of some kind, whether it be serving the organization itself, empowering it, allowing it to grow, or profiting from it. The “board” or individuals in charge will decide what the mission for that particular organization will be.
Characteristic #5: Fair Treatment: Basically, this characteristics revolves around the idea that all employees or followers within a bureaucracy will be treated equally. This characteristic is often referred to as “Purposely Impersonal”, and states that the individuals within the organization are not to be influenced by any differences that they share outside of the establishment.
Characteristic #6: Employment Based around Skillset: In order to become part of a bureaucracy, an employer should have the ability to offer skillsets that are relevant to that particular organization.
A final characteristic to keep in mind is “Parkinson’s Law”. Founded by C. Northcote Parkinson, this law is derived around the fact that a professional staff or management crew will become increasingly larger, but at a predictable rate- and this growth happens with almost no regard for how well the organization is doing.
This is one of the main reasons why bureaucracies are often referred to as “inefficient” or “wasteful”, because they are utilizing too many resources to achieve a goal that would have been attainable otherwise.
These days, bureaucratic forms are so common that individuals simply accept them as a normal way of operation for specific companies- and even the government. And while bureaucracies promise a lot of meaningful benefits, experts believe that they do come with a long list of negative side-effects.
In order to avoid problems of bureaucracy, it’s important for lower level and higher level authority figures to effectively communicate. But getting tasks done within a bureaucracy is considered so tedious and unnecessary that they are often not worth the resources that are invested into it.