In the past century,
the rapid growth of democratisation and industrialisation has faded 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 developed through rational
principles to efficiently reach their targets. Weber’s bureaucratic management
theory concentrates on key characteristics of an ideal bureaucracy; to attain
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.


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 relates to the idea of each man doing the job he is most
capable of. Essentially, this 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, learning one job well saved time from
workers transitioning to other jobs and the close acquaintance to a single job
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


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 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) points to this negative aspect of
the concept which turns workers to be 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 path of
accountability for every task and activity 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 point of failure and amend the mistake as
efficiently as possible. Furthermore, adopting the hierarchal structure establishes
relationships between managers and subordinates, thus outlining clear
communication direction. 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


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 employees tend to approve communications 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 in pace or ahead of other organisations, 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 basic and
highly emphasised characteristic of bureaucracy is that administration is continuously
governed 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 degree 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
actions of hundreds of employees to be uniformed, predicted and coordinated,
while their absence 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 thinking. 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 may then translate
into greater commitment to work, thus, boosting 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 2005).

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 ungrateful. 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 a rational administration.
Bureaucracy has been an indispensable part of modern life, exemplifying it
to a great extent that it is the most rational form of administration. 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.


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