The Psychological Drivers of Bureaucracy: Protecting the Societal Goals of an Organization

Author: Tjeerd C. Andringa, University College Groningen


This chapter addresses the psychological enablers of bureaucracy and ways to protect bureaucrats and society from its adverse effects. All organizations benefit from formalization, but the dominance of coercive formalization defines a bureaucracy. Since bureaucrats are not bureaucratic among friends, one might ask what changes someone at work into a bureaucrat and why do bureaucrats and bureaucratic organizations exhibit their characteristic behaviors? The pattern arises from fundamental psychology and in particular (1) our capacity for habitual behavior, (2) the difference between intelligence as manifestation of the coping mode of cognition and understanding as manifestation of the pervasive optimization mode, and (3) the phenomenon of authoritarianism as the need for external authority through a lack of understanding of one’s living environment. The combination of these phenomena leads to a formal definition, the “bureaucracy dynamic,” in which the prevalence of coercive formalization scales with “organizational ignorance” and “worker cost of failure.”

Modern organizational theory has become progressively more aware of the inefficiencies and dangers of bureaucracy. The framework developed in this chapter can be applied to protect society, organizations, and workers from the adverse effects of bureaucracy. Yet while nonbureaucratic organizations can produce excellence, they also rely on it and are, therefore, somewhat fragile. Improved protective measures can be developed using the framework developed in this chapter.


Berlin et al: Springer Verlag


Andringa T.C. (2015). The Psychological Drivers of Bureaucracy: Protecting the Societal Goals of an Organization. In: M. Janssen, M. A. Wimmer, & A. Deljoo, Policy Practice and Digital Science – Integrating Complex Systems, Social Simulation and Public Administration in Policy Research (Series: Public Administration and Information Technology). Berlin et al: Springer Verlag (to appear)