The study of public administration problems is reflected in various branches of social science, including political science, sociology, jurisprudence, economics, and history. In a broad sense, public administration is understood as the practical, organizing, and regulating influence of the state on people’s public and private life for its ordering, preservation, or transformation. Despite a clear position regarding control methods and a legal framework that determines the degree of responsibility and authority of the public administration area, there are distinct concepts of public administration that differ in the principles of interaction among stakeholders and approaches to maintaining stability. One of these theories is the concept of Max Weber. He was one of the founders of the classical public administration theory and the author of the concept called rational bureaucracy.
Weber paid much attention to the topic of public administration, and in the first half of the 20th century, his theory supplemented by Woodrow Wilson’s arguments formed the basis of the idea of public management. According to Őnday (2016), a distinctive feature of rational bureaucracy, as an idea of legal domination, is the presence of a system of formal rules governing management personnel’s activities. This is one of the most critical differences between legal and traditional domination: in the traditional form, the possibility of lawmaking is limited by existing traditions, and in the legal form, there are no restrictions except for compliance with all relevant formalities.
When considering this concept from the perspective of organizational behavior, one can reason how Weber’s bureaucracy theory affects the relationship between employees within a given company. The research question is as follows: is the public administration theory of rational bureaucracy a viable tool to increase productivity by influencing organizational behavior from the perspective of functional rather than personal requirements? The assessment of the features of this concept, its relevance to the modern management sphere, and other features will help answer this question. The problem of interaction between employees and managers will be assessed as the main research issue, and Weber’s theory will be analyzed from the standpoint of the possibility of its implementation in the modern work environment.
The assessment of Weber’s rational bureaucratic theory in the context of organizational behavior and the impact on employee performance in the modern context of professional interaction can be analyzed by using findings from relevant academic sources. The analysis of the concept, as a classical model of the distribution of official powers and functional responsibilities, requires identifying its unique features that distinguish modern principles of personnel control from traditional forms of legal domination. Various scholars’ discussions about the features of the theory, including its criticism, can provide objective background to answer the question posed about the relevance of this concept to the modern leadership environment.
Weber’s theory was the result of the centuries-old formation of ideas about the principles and optimal methods of public administration. In his study, Őnday (2016) examines the history of these concepts and pays attention to the doctrines of the 20th century, in particular, the classical model of public administration based on bureaucracy as the main form of regulating working relationships. According to the author, this traditional Weber’s approach articulates the basic premises of a vertical of power at the organizational level: “the principles of office hierarchy and levels of graded authority mean a firmly ordered system of super and subordination in which there is a supervision of the lower offices by the greater ones” (Őnday, 2016, p. 102). By applying this approach to organizational behavior and an opportunity to influence subordinates’ performance, managers are empowered to dominate. In this case, productivity, as a critical aspect of work, is achieved only if administrators’ managerial skills are sufficiently developed. Otherwise, the lack of the ability to express opinions on individual operational processes freely is fraught with errors made by personnel through the fault of incompetent managers and, consequently, low productivity.
The value of Weber’s concept concerning organizational behavior is the assessment of the competencies that public administrators need to possess to create an environment for successful and efficient work. As Ang (2017) argues, Weber emphasizes the contractual nature of the relationship between individual officials and organizations in modern bureaucracy and notes the role of educational training. One of the main virtues of rational bureaucracy is that it operates following formulated rules and requires applying specialized knowledge in the process of governance (Ang, 2017). In terms of organizational behavior, this theory has relevance as a model that defines employees’ obligations within their qualifications through rigorous discipline. However, in a modern environment, such a form of management may be irrelevant since, according to Ang (2017), public administrators who adhere to this practice take all tasks literally and do not apply creative and multi-stage development approaches. This, in turn, inhibits development and serves as a constraint on productivity, thereby preventing the creation of a productive work environment with variable decision-making methods.
Weber’s concept is controversial regarding modern principles of personnel interaction in companies and, in particular, organizational behavior due to outdated economic approaches promoted in Western culture at that time. Byrkjeflot (2018) examines this bureaucracy theory and notes that it was relevant in the era of capitalist development, when, through cross-national comparisons, Weber developed the idea of an ideal system to optimize working conditions. Today, more attention is paid to the market aspects of work, which do not imply an emphasis on rigid vertical power but, conversely, promote flexibility in management as a principle of adapting to dynamic conditions. As Byrkjeflot (2018) states, Weber’s model defines how employees accept legitimate orders and considers the boss-subordinate rather than the leader-colleague relationships. Cross-cultural, ethical, and other forms of organizational behavior are not objectives to be implemented within the framework of this theory, which contradicts the modern conditions of team communication. As a result, one can note that Weber’s bureaucracy theory rather constrains than promotes dynamic interaction, which, given the current conditions of business and economic trends, hurts performance outcomes.
When considering Weber’s concept as an approach that provides an opportunity to create a sustainable system of working relationships in an organization, one should take into account discipline as one of the valuable aspects of public administration. Khorasani and Almasifard (2017) analyze several theories and mention Weber’s bureaucracy model as a framework that forms a strong managerial background. The consequence of bureaucratization is the establishment of formal impersonality in relations among people when all personal and emotional elements are removed from the official conduct of business, thereby ensuring the clear implementation of organizational tasks and excluding any form of incorrect behavior in the workplace (Khorasani & Almasifard, 2017). This perspective, coupled with high skills gained through good educational background, stimulates the minimization of operational errors and can help avoid problems caused by human factors and emotionality. Hence, from a discipline standpoint, Weber’s theory has the potential to ensure productivity by eliminating any contingencies. However, flexibility is lost as a valuable property of being responsive to any change in the operating environment, and increased control can do more harm than good.
Unlimited control opportunities provided by Weber’s concept not only impact flexibility negatively but also threaten democratic freedoms and values. According to Christensen and Yesilkagit (2018), Weber’s “unchecked bureaucratic rule” is controversial in the context of the legitimacy of control at the organizational level due to the lack of staff freedom (p. 952). Incentives in a bureaucratic organization promote conformity in behavior and thinking rather than autonomy and creativity. As Christensen and Yesilkagit (2018) note, neutrality promoted by the supporters of Weber’s concept does not allow for innovations that characterize the modern public administration industry. In contemporary conditions, employees’ functions and competencies are differentiated and complex, and following a bureaucratic model can lead to stagnation and passive organizational behavior when there are no initiatives from subordinates. Such an outcome, in turn, is undesirable in an environment where success and productivity depend on the speed of decisions and indicators of inclusiveness as parameters reflecting the degree of employee involvement in organizational aspects of activities. Therefore, from this perspective, of organizational behavior and performance, Weber’s theory is rather negative than positive.
As an argument against the application of the public administration concept under consideration due to its negative impact on productivity, in academic literature, attention is paid to employees’ abilities and talents. Matte (2017) argues that “besides the formal hierarchies formed along with the organizational structures, informal group behavior will influence the performance of individual members and consequently that of the organization” (p. 6). In other words, employees’ abilities form the capabilities of organizations and are parameters that are valued in the field of personnel management. As Matte (2017) states, productive environments and effective group activities are formed when people’s social needs are addressed successfully without undue pressure. In contrast, Weber’s bureaucracy concept is associated with an authoritarian leadership style that inhibits individual talents and unifies the principles of teamwork. Organizational productivity is centralized and impedes the implementation of various ideas and projects, which limits the range of achievements and innovations (Matte, 2017). Therefore, from this position, Weber’s theory does not fit modern companies due to the limitations imposed on behavior and employees’ opportunities to realize individual talents and abilities.
Although the concept in question is often criticized, the classical public administration theory by Weber, in its traditional meaning, may carry positive aspects for organizational behavior. Picciotto (2016) notes that the author of this model himself assessed bureaucracy as “the instrument of choice for a rationally managed, unbiased, efficient, principled society” (p. 425). Since the first half of the 20th century was characterized by complex social and economic challenges, this approach became effective in establishing order in management and allowed for a clear strategy for the distribution of powers. At that time, according to Picciotto (2016), organizing people to work on a common goal was difficult due to the lack of sustainable models of collective action, and Weber’s idea became a significant achievement in the field of public management. In terms of organizational behavior and impact on productivity, however, this concept required employees’ unconditional subordination to administrators and assumed long-term arrangements between managers and subordinates (Picciotto, 2016). Therefore, in modern realities, Weber’s theory has lost its original meaning due to few prospects for individual development and professional skills improvement.
The rationality factor underlying Weber’s concept may be seen as a valuable prerequisite for sustainable organizational behavior. Daneshfard and Aboalmaali (2016) argue that, based on this model, managers can anticipate and control subordinates’ behavior, which, in turn, makes it possible to set specific tasks and predict their implementation, thereby establishing performance objectives. At the same time, the researchers note that this concept contradicts modern views of democracy in labor relations since employees’ freedoms and rights are infringed in favor of organizational benefits (Daneshfard & Aboalmaali, 2016). Today, this practice raises several questions due to its contradictions with the norms and regulations promoted in labor legislation. Rationalism has ceased to be the ultimate idea because bureaucracy, in its primordial form, hinders the free expression of will in the workplace, which is associated with insufficient productivity due to pressure on employees. As a result, all the sources reviewed to confirm the rigidity of Weber’s concept, and most authors agree that in modern conditions, this theory cannot correlate with high performance due to the standardization of organizational behavior and the rejection of creativity.
The classical public administration theory, developed by Weber, considers rational bureaucracy as a concept of management, which involves building a clear vertical of power and legal forms of control. Concerning organizational behavior, the original idea of this model carries positive implications, in particular, the timeliness of the tasks assigned and the ability to achieve a stable system of manager-subordinate relationships. Nevertheless, the conducted literature review proves that, in modern realities, this theory is characterized as an undesirable form of administration. Productivity, as one of the main factors of successful teamwork, is reduced if employees are unable to express individual views and cannot count on professional growth prospects. The suppression of democratic rights and freedoms is a consequence of following Weber’s theory. In the first half of the 20th century, this model may have been relevant, but today, performance is achieved through flexibility and the ability to adapt to current conditions but not through tight control over organizational behavior. Therefore, this concept of public administration is not a viable tool to increase productivity in contemporary realities.
A detailed analysis of Weber’s theory has made it possible to highlight the main differences between traditional and modern forms of public administration and determine which aspects of organizational behavior allow for achieving high performance. Nevertheless, despite its constraints and limitations, the model under consideration may be regarded as a valuable management framework that has helped establish the basic principles of personnel management and maintain sustainability in the workflow. Organizational behavior in modern companies presupposes the value of each employee’s individuality and stimulates the manifestation of flexibility and initiative in performing routine tasks. Thus, Weber’s concept of bureaucracy can be a mechanism for enhancing vertical power but not a strategy for accomplishing subordinates’ dedication and high performance in a dynamic environment.
Ang, Y. Y. (2017). Beyond Weber: Conceptualizing an alternative ideal type of bureaucracy in developing contexts. Regulation & Governance, 11(3), 282-298. Web.
Byrkjeflot, H. (2018). The impact and interpretation of Weber’s bureaucratic ideal type in organisation theory and public administration. Bureaucracy and Society in Transition, 33, 13-35. Web.
Christensen, J., & Yesilkagit, K. (2018). International public administrations: A critique. Journal of European Public Policy, 26(6), 946-961. Web.
Daneshfard, K., & Aboalmaali, F. S. (2016). Max Weber’s philosophy of bureaucracy and its criticism. International Journal of Scientific Management and Development, 4(6), 214-220. Web.
Khorasani, S. T., & Almasifard, M. (2017). Evolution of management theory within 20 century: A systemic overview of paradigm shifts in management. International Review of Management and Marketing, 7(3), 134-137.
Matte, R. (2017). Bureaucratic structures and organizational performance: A comparative study of Kampala capital city authority and national planning authority. Journal of Public Administration and Policy Research, 9(1), 1-16. Web.
Őnday, Ő. (2016). Classical organization theory: From generic management of Socrates to bureaucracy of Weber. International Journal of Business and Management Review, 4(1), 87-105.
Picciotto, R. (2016). Evaluation and bureaucracy: The tricky rectangle. Evaluation, 22(4), 424-434. Web.