'Drowning in a sea of chewing gum'. Makework among members of bureaucratic organizations


  • Masuch,Michael
  • LaPotin,Perry
  • Verhorst,Rik


Public sector, Work organization, Workplaces, Civil service, Bureaucracy, "makework" behavior, public sector organization workers, Interviews


Parkinson’s Law consists of two parts: (1) ‘officials wish to multiply subordinates, not rivals’, and (2) ‘officials make work for each other’. While the Law’s first part has been quite extensively examined in the literature, the second part has fallen into oblivion. This paper reexamines the concept of makework inductively. It reports how members of bureaucratic organizations conceptualize makework, how they experience makework, and how they explain it. The concept of makework turns out to be a mirror of bureaucracy, which reflects different aspects of organizing from different angles: Organizational complexity, psychological bias, and individual sensitivities. Semistructured interviews conducted with 61 members of 3 interlinked public sector organizations -- the national department of education and the central and science administration departments of a state university -- to determine whether "makework" can be discerned as a specific phenomenon, distinct from other forms of bureaucratic inefficiency. The sample, stratified along hierarchical layers and chains of command, were asked to assess their neighbor's makework. Data on individual attributes were collected and attitudinal scales measuring motivation and ambition were administered to check for the effects of subjective disposition on individual statements. Results offer no support for makework as a concept for a specific class of phenomena, distinct from other forms of bureaucratic inefficiency; rather, it appears to be a generic term. Findings contradict the rational choice model of bureaucratic behavior. 1 Table, 4 Figures, 46 References. Modified AA

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