Max Weber – Bureaucracy

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26 February 2016

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Describe the principles of organisation (sometimes known as the ‘classical organisations principles’) in a bureaucracy. What are the pros and cons of working in a bureaucracy? What was Max Weber’s contribution to the study of bureaucracy?

At the beginning of the 20th Century, after the industrial revolution began, theories of classical management began to emerge. The industrial revolution was a massive turning point in history and the economic market was transformed for the better. The world average capita increased over tenfold (Maddison, Angus. The World Economy: Historical statistics, 2003). With the increase in the average income, there was an increase in jobs. The downside to this was that managers had a bigger workforce to deal with and were unsure how to train them and deal with them professionally and effectively. Henri Faylor was considered to be the founder of the classical school of organisation. In 1916, he constructed 14 principles or organisation that could be applied worldwide and in all workplaces. His 14 principles are as follows: 1: Division of labour- allocate tasks to specific workers, and then they know their job 2: Authority- Management are in charge and give orders

3: Discipline- employees listen to these orders
4: Unity of command- only one superior gives orders
5: Unity of direction- One manager, one plan
6: Subordination of Individual Interests to the general interests- Business comes first and foremost 7: Remuneration- Fair wage to all workers
8: Centralisation- the allocated decision makers
9: Scalar chain- communication goes through the chain of command 10: Order- allocated place for employees and materials
11: Equity- kindness and fairness from employer to staff
12: Stability of tenure of personnel- keep staff turnover to a low 13: Imitative- praise and reward employees who carry out tasks without being asked 14: Espirit de corps – keep team moral high

Faylor, along with Max Weber studied management roles and believed they found a revolutionary way in which managers should behave in the workplace, train and react towards their staff to increase productivity, therefore profits. Their theories and principles (though have been tweaked and slightly updated) have lasted the test of time and are still being used in many workplaces today. There are three assumptions based on the classical theory 1-The relationship between employees and management is defined by means of formal structured communication process, defined tasks, defined accountability, and formalised procedures and practices, defined tasks, defined accountability, and formalised procedures and practices to avoid any conflict in their relationship. 2-Workers have been treated as economic man who can be motivated by means of money only. 3-Workers have been considered as a product of means of production or as a cog in the wheel. (International Research Journal of Finance and Economics-Issue 41, pg 61, 2010)

The theories and principles of classic management play a major part in bureaucracy. The rules and guidelines of bureaucracy are very clear and can be identified easily. The higher up in the company you are, the more power and authority you have. The lower you are placed in the company; you will have little to no authority. The principles of bureaucracy are as follows 1- Hierarchy of authority: Managers sit at the top of the hierarchy. They give orders and commands and their subordinates must obey. 2-Unity of command: each member of staff deal with one superior and only one! They will deal with this superior for all reasons concerning work – tasks, problems etc 3-Task specialisation: workers with specialised knowledge will use this to carry out specialised tasks. 4-Responsibilities and job descriptions: Each employee follows their allocated job. They know what is exactly required from them at work. 5-Line and staff functions: Staff managers are there to serve the company and to help make it a success. Staff mangers are not there to carry out primary purposes. (DuBrin, Andrew, Essentials of management, pg257, 2009)

Max Weber’s part in classical management is very much geared towards bureaucracy and believed its the most efficent way to organise a successful business. Weber felt that too many businesses were being ran on a personal level and that owners/managers should not treat their staff as friends, but their attitude towards their subordinates should be strictly professional. Weber argued that a professional relationship would not only be beneficial to the buisness, but also to the staff. Staff would know their job role clearly and any promotions made would be given to members of staff based on their hard work ethic and not on their personality or personal relationship with the the employer. Weber outlined the charcteristics of bureaucracy as follows: 1-A continuous organisation of official functions are bound by rules. 2-Specialised – Staff know exactly what is expected of the. 3-A clearly defined hierachy of offices- Each official knows who to report to. 4-Rules – are clear and all members of staff are made aware of them. 5-Impersonal- equality to all. No hatred or favourtism.

6-Free selection of appointed officials- officials are appointed through qualifications and not through bias or favour. 7-Full-time paid officials- the higher the hirearchy rank, the higher the pay. 8-Career officials- promotions is based only on merit and not by favour. 9-Private/public split – business and private life are completely seperate. 10-Discipline and control within the workplace.


Bureaucracy made modern civilisation possible (DuBrin, Andrew, Management essentials, 2012, pg265) Bureaucracy is severely required in large firms – without it there would not be structure and therefore the businesses would not run in an orderly manner, therefore would not thrive and expand. Without expanding businesses we would not have the privilidge of such advanced technologies, certain medicines and many other luxuries we all enjoy today. Labour is divided out in a bureaucracy, therfore all staff members know there job and what is exactly expected of them. If an employee is good at their job, it gives them confidence in what they’re doing, therefore makes them more at ease within their workplace. Rules and guidelines are explained to them from the outset, so discrepancies are generally kept to a minimum. As I outlined before, bureaucracy allows those within a workplace to be promoted on the basis of their skills and work ethic rather than being promoted because of their personality or personal relationship with higher management.

Weber highly advocated his principles, but he was also aware that it would not be without fault. He even pointed out a fault of bureaucracy himself – “Iron cageof control”. This refers to Weber’s feelings that when individuals work within a bureaucracy, they get “trapped in a system that is purely based on teleological effeiceny, rational calculation and control” ( Weber’s views on bureacracy have also come under scrutiny from fellow sociologists. Argytis (1957) argued that people who follwed classical management theories were more likely to be unhappy and fail within the workplace. He felt that people working within a democracy are treated like children, they work to a short term perspective and have minimal control over their working lives – adults don’t respond well to being treated this way at work and therfore will not respond well towards the company/business. Another disadvantage of working in a democracy is what is referred to as ‘Red Tape’. This refers to all the paperwork and procedures that is required when working in a demococracy. Weber’s views were that this negative impact was not meant to be included in his theories. When a bereacratic form has been implimented within a workplace, its very hard to remove, so therefore employers who wish to change the dynamics of their business and get away from a bureacratic form may find this a very lenghtly and costly process to do so. Generally, companies want their staff to use their time at work produtively and effectively – time is wasted in a bureaucracy as the chain of command is used, therefore employees speak to their senior, who then report to theirs and so forth. If an employee were able to go straight to the manager in charge, this would save time and money – profit in a company is crucial to keep it running.

There are two main types of organisation structure. The flat structure and the tall structure. The flat structure represents organisations with few levels in the hierarchy which have a broad control span, as opposed to the tall structure which has more levels however more focused areas of control. There are many benefits of the flat structure. As there are fewer hierarchical levels there is less ‘administrative distance’ between grades which makes communication a lot easier. It also makes the organisation a lot more personal without contradicting Weber’s principle of keeping professional relationships. Also, as the span of control is so vast it is vital to employ competent employees to ensure a smooth operational process, resulting in a better workforce and meeting business objectives. However the main disadvantage of this structure is perhaps the authoritarian structure itself.

In order for this structure to function properly there must be a definite split between superiors and suborinates otherwise the authority levels are undermined. Group conflicts are more likely in a “them versus us” situation, and if a manager socialises with their staff they are merging the statuses of the groups. Communications between subordinates often become a problem, as there is no difference in authority between the grades. Then there is the tall structure, which many people often prefer because of the number of hierarcical levels. This gives more scope for promotion prospects which in turn generates a motivated workforce. Certain orginisations require this form of structure, one of the best examples being the military and its rank structure. It has many levels of authority, which is more effective when dealing with instant decisions and rapid adaptations ‘on the ground’. Other organisations like this are the fire service, police and hospitals.

So both structures have pros and cons, and work well in different situations. Whichever structure may fit the organisation better it is plain to see that a bureaucracy benefits it more than it would disadvantage it. Being in a bureaucracy is better for the company, and the staff within it, resulting in a better managed and motivated workforce which is turn increases productivity and professionalism.


DuBrin, Andrew. Essentials of management, 2009.

DuBrin, Andrew. Essentials of management, 2012.

International Research Journal of finance and economics – issue 41, 2010

Maddison, Angus. The World Economy Historical statistics, 2003 (visited site on 12/11/2012) (visited site on 12/11/2012

Word count including quotes and references-1722

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"Max Weber – Bureaucracy" StudyScroll, Feb 26, 2016.

"Max Weber – Bureaucracy" StudyScroll, 26-Feb-2016. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 29-Mar-2023]

StudyScroll. (2016). Max Weber – Bureaucracy. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 29-Mar-2023]

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