The upside of bureaucracy: Unintended benefits for professional careers

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Introduction There is a frequent refrain from scholars and practitioners alike that the professions are becoming ever more bureaucratized. If true, what does this trend imply for professional careers? Several volumes have been devoted to the implications of bureaucratization in general, nearly all of which see it negatively from the point of view of professional workers themselves (e.g. Derber, 1982; Leicht and Fennell, 2001; Freidson, 2001). In this chapter I advance another, perhaps less obvious, interpretation: That bureaucracy offers those in professional careers the kind of career flexibility that today is welcomed. I argue that bureaucratization is (largely unintentionally) creating a range of flexible career options that were previously unavailable-and that are increasingly valued by professional workers themselves. I advance this argument using data from a multi-method study of primary care physicians. A review of the historical and current trends in professional organizations (e.g. law firms, medical practices) in the research literature shows that they are indeed becoming more bureaucratic. This process entails a greater use of formalized rules and procedures (Gert h and Mills, 1946), an d more centr alized con trol of pr ofessional activities and client relationships (Pugh et al., 1968). Some of the resulting effects on careers are straightforward. For example, bureaucracy tends to increase the demand for professionals to take on managerial roles (see Rothman and Perrucci, 1970, and Raelin, 1985).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationEmployment Relationships
Subtitle of host publicationNew models of White-Collar Work
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages34
ISBN (Electronic)9780511611544
ISBN (Print)9780521865371
StatePublished - Jan 1 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Business, Management and Accounting


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