Bureaucratic Personality Essay

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In his seminal work on the dysfunctions of bureaucracy, Robert Merton suggested that the values and attitudes necessary for the bureaucratic official to make a useful contribution are embraced to such a degree that the needs of the organization become secondary to the workings of the bureaucracy itself. Attention switches from the goals of the organization to the details of the control system. Rules become ends in themselves rather than means to ends, and are applied in a ritualistic manner regardless of circumstances. Rigid compliance with formal procedures, and a punctilious insistence on observing regulations, may cause the bureaucrat to lose sight of what really needs to be done. Behavior becomes so rule oriented that it is impossible to satisfy clients, giving rise to pejorative connotations of impersonality and petty officialdom. Merton saw the bureaucrat as having internalized an externally rationalized order that yields a relatively stable pattern of stimulus-response connections. This pattern is widely regarded as constituting personality.

Merton observed that the sentiments associated with the bureaucratic personality emanate from several sources. One is the bureaucrat s career structure. Rewards resulting from conformity, such as regular salary increases and pension benefits, cause the individual to overreact to formal requirements. Moreover, fixed progression keeps competition between colleagues to a minimum, and encourages an esprit de corps that often takes on a higher priority than work objectives. Another is the tendency for bureaucratic procedures to become ”sanctified, the official performing them in an impersonal manner according to the demands of the training manual rather than the requirements of individual cases. Additionally, administrators are so mindful of their organizational status that they often fail to discard it when dealing with clients, thus giving the impression of a domineering attitude.


  1. Allinson, C. W. (1984) Bureaucratic Personality and
  2. Organization Structure. Gower, Aldershot. Merton,    K.   (1940)  Bureaucratic  structure and personality. Social Forces 18: 560-8.

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