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References Kretchmar, J. (2021). Bureaucratic Inertia. Salem Press Encyclopedia. <!–Additional Information: Persistent link to this record (Permalink): https://lopes.idm.oclc.org/login? url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ers&AN=89185356&site=eds-live&scope=site End of citation–>

Bureaucratic Inertia A summary of some of the ways in which sociologists and organizational theorists have criticized bureaucracy as an organizational form, particularly with respect to efficiency and productivity is provided. Factors that threaten the functioning of a bureaucracy often lead to what is generally referred to as “bureaucratic inertia.” Other criticisms address the manner in which bureaucracy impacts people – in terms of motivation, creativity, morality, and human potential. Before addressing these criticisms, however, bureaucracy is defined, paying particular attention to the characteristics identified by German sociologist Max Weber. Finally, alternative viewpoints are introduced. Although bureaucracy is heavily attacked, by academic scholars and laypersons alike, many theorists suggest it is superior to other forms of organization. Their arguments are explored here as well.

Keywords Bureaucracy; Efficiency; Flexibility; Goal Displacement; Hierarchy; Information Pathologies; Open Organizations; Professionalism; Rationality; Trained Incapacity

Bureaucratic Inertia


In the minds of the average twenty-first century world citizen, bureaucracy has come to be associated with a long list of negative attributes: impersonal, rigid, cold, inefficient, and burdensome. As Adler writes, “Colloquially speaking, bureaucracy means red tape, over-controlling bosses, and apathetic employees” (1999, p. 36). Or as Greenwald colorfully describes, “most galling to the man or woman in the street is a sense that bureaucracy imposes unnecessary barriers to getting things done” (2008, p. 340). The lay person’s perception of bureaucracy as a large and slow-moving machine has basis in reality; what is referred to more generally as bureaucratic inertia is a multi-faceted phenomenon that often times characterizes large organizations. On the other hand, organizational theorists – while recognizing the inherent drawbacks to bureaucracy – generally hold them in higher esteem. “At least for the large-scale operations upon which modern society depends, bureaucracy may well be superior to


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