Introduction Recent studies have associated red tape with a variety of organizational attributes, including a reduction in benefits provided to clients (Scott and Pandey, 2000), a more risk-averse decision culture (Bozeman and Kingsley, 1998) and higher technological innovation (Moon and Bretschneider, 2002; Pandey & Bretschneider, 1997). One organizational attribute not explored fully is the extent to which red tape – defined here as managers’ perceptions that rules and procedures have a negative effect on organizational performance – results in higher work alienation.
Bureaucratic control has long been suspected of fostering work detachment by distancing employees from formal authority, reducing individual work freedom (Blauner, 1964) and engendering feelings of powerlessness (Gouldner, 1952). As Albrow (1970) has pointed out, a number of these studies (e.g. Gouldner, 1952; Merton, 1952; Selznick, 1949) were rejoinders to Weber’s ideal type concept of bureaucracy and were successful in highlighting unanticipated and undesirable consequences of the bureaucratic form of organization. Subsequent empirical studies, however, provide mixed support for the linkage between organizational control and work alienation. Highly centralized and highly formalized structures have been shown to have both significant (Zeffane, 1993; Aiken and Hage, 1966) and insignificant impacts (Sarros, 2002) on work alienation. An emphasis on rules, regulations and procedures has been correlated with higher alienation in some studies, (Bonjean and Grimes, 1970) but not in others (Allen and LaFollette, 1977). Formalization has been associated with lower work alienation (Michaels, 1988; Podsakoff, et al, 1986, Organ and Greene, 1981) and higher work alienation (Aiken and Hage, 1966, Bonjean and Grimes, 1970).
While studies linking Weberian characteristics of bureaucracies and work alienation have shown mixed results, we expect a clearer and non-ambiguous relationship between red tape, a more direct measure of the negative aspects of bureaucratic formalism, as well as general measures of organization control to work alienation. When employees encounter rules, regulations, or procedures that reduce their discretion and seem pointless yet burdensome, these encounters may simultaneously trigger the key psychological determinants of alienation: feelings of powerlessness and meaningless. These feelings, in turn, are expected to reduce organization commitment, job