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The Socialization of Bureaucracies

An excellent research paper by A. Abero Fall 2009

When you go into any franchise market, restaurant, or store, you often encounter this rather impersonal and insincere attitude from the workers in these establishments. You are often thought of as a number, another customer that is adding to the company's profit, and not as a human being or individual. I remember going into a Walmart store in Virginia Beach, VA a long time ago, and experiencing first hand just how impersonal a big franchise could be. The cashier barely looked at me in the face, and had this rather monotonous tone in their voice that voided them of any personality. Most big companies are typically set up bureaucratically. This means that jobs are divided up, and the hard labor tasks are done by workers that make the company functional who, incidentally, all working under the supervision of CEOs and managers. After having experienced such an undesirable situation at a Walmart store, I made a conscious decision to start supporting local businesses because of the personal interaction and care you get from the workers when you buy from them, and not to mention you are supporting the local economy and making it thrive. The rise and expansion of big companies and franchises such as McDonald's and Walmart, has clearly made a negative impact on society by standardizing the way people live their lives.

What is the definition of bureaucracy? According to the text, "Essentials of Sociology. A Down-to-Earth Approach" by James M. Henslin, a bureaucracy is, "A formal organization with a hierarchy of authority and a clear division of labor: emphasis on impersonality of positions and written rules, communication, and records." (Henslin P. 124-125). Thinking about the definition that the text gives, it is hard not to notice just how prominent bureaucracies are in everyday society. We are exposed to bureaucratic ideology everyday of our lives, whether we experience it at our jobs, or when we are doing our routine grocery shopping at the nearby food market chain. At work, you have a boss who manages you, and they have a boss who manages them. Unless you are a manager, you are considered just another worker out of many who is there to do your task to keep the company going. When you are sitting in class, you and all the other students are expected to face the front of the class, and listen to the teacher speak as participants of this formalized type of learning. As students of this rigid educational system, you are expected to all retain the same material that is taught in class and take the same exact test as all your fellow classmates.

Henslin (P. 124-125) describes the typical characteristics of bureaucracies. "Bureaucracies have: Clear levels, with assignments flowing downward and accountability flowing upward. A division of labor. Written rules. Written communications and records. Impersonality and replaceability." These characteristics hold true for most big companies because this is how most of them are able to function and stay alive. With big companies, you always have a head person (usually a CEO or a manager), and they have to do the least amount of labor-intensive work. Rarely do any of the owners or CEOs have any communication or interaction with the labor workers who work below them who help keep the company functioning, and very rarely any of the consumers. Most of the labor workers of these companies are often worked to death and paid grossly low wages for the amount of work they put out for the company. Most of the ways that the CEOs of big companies get in touch with the workers is through impersonal e-mails or fliers and bulletins for the employees to read.

With this impersonal way of communication, it leaves much to be desired for the workers to believe that the company actually cares about their overall well-being. To the CEO's and managers of these franchise companies, they do not see their workers as actually human beings/individuals, they see them as expendable entities that if they are not helping the company with their monetary gain or accretion, that they can easily replace those workers who are not helpful, and hire new workers that will. When those companies are gaining profit, most of it goes to the CEOs, leaving the workers frustrated, depressed, and usually poor because of their low wages and hard working environments. Most big companies only care about branching out, becoming more famous, and of course, becoming wealthier.

This sort of mentality has bled into mainstream culture. We have billions upon billions of fast food chains for those who do not have time to cook, and want something quick, easy, and know you will always get the same product every time. We live in a world where we expect everything to be consistent and reliable. We are always looking for something grander, trying to beat out others, to gain status and power, and taking down anyone along the way. The flaw of this type of mentality in everyday social interaction (personal and professional) with each other, is that we as a society have become stripped of any feeling or empathy, which is a pertinent characteristic of what makes us individuals, what makes us human beings. We have become a society that mainly thinks about themselves, and not really care or are aware of the well being of others. We are so submersed in our own selfish needs, that we often forget that there is world with people and living things that surrounds us.

An example of a type of bureaucracy is chain supermarkets or stores. When you go into a huge store chain such as Walmart or WinCo foods, you walk in, and immediately upon putting one foot into the store; you get this sort of impersonal vibe that inundates you the whole time you are there. You immediately sense the lack of diversity, and this overwhelming feeling that you are a small ant wandering through this huge dirt hill. I get the same feeling inside me whenever I walk through a Walmart or WinCo food, which is why I avoid shopping at these particular places all together. As soon as you walk into a Walmart, you notice a similarity in everything around you. All the isles in the store look alike with the same products stocked in the shelves, and all of the employees are dressed the same with their blue vests. After a couple minutes of being in the store, you start to have a hard time distinguishing between the different employees because they all start to blend together and look the same. A quote that is referenced in the article, "Eleven Inherent Rules of Corporate Behaviors" by Jerry Mander by the president of Nabisco Corporation:

"One world of homogenous consumption... [I am] looking forward to the day when Arabs and Americans, Latinos and Scandinavians, will be munching on Ritz crackers as enthusiastically as they already drink Coke or brush their teeth with Colgate" (Mander, P.4).

This quote epitomizes one of the main characteristics of bureaucracies - homogenization. Big companies have this idea that everything needs to look, feel, act, and smell the same, the less variation the better. They want to be able to have consistency, and reproducibility in their ideas and products because that is what they know will sell and will help their company grow. The same idea becomes embedded into their workers as well. Going back to Walmart, when you go to ask a cashier a question about where a certain item is located, you get this sort of friendly-fake yet monotonous tone in their voice when they respond to you.

They have to act a certain way towards the customers, and usually have a spiel to do because that is what is expected of them, and after a while, the employees will start using that same monotonous tone in their everyday personal interactions, and even catch themselves using that same spiel in a setting outside of work. I know I caught myself using that monotonous voice when I worked at Burgerville and Meier & Frank. Walmart has also been know to branch out to more areas, and put out numerous ads in the newspapers and television to make themselves more prominent all over, as if they weren't already.

I have been working at Kaiser Permanente as a Certified Nursing Assistant for about two years now. Kaiser Permanente, as you might know, is a big HMO. Kaiser is well known and is located all over the United States, and came up with the lingo "Thrive" as a way to distinguish the company from the rest. When I first started working at Kaiser as a Certified Nursing Assistant, it definitely was a challenge to get all of the tasks assigned to me done by the end of the shift. We always had set tasks that were mandatory for CNAs to complete before the end of our shifts, and a majority of the time, I would barely get everything done. Since I work on the busy post-operative nursing unit, things can get pretty hectic, and quite unpredictable.

When I first started working at Kaiser, I was handed a sheet that had all the assigned tasks for what each CNA on each shift is supposed to do, and even had a time frame of when we are supposed each tasks. With my first three months working on the unit, I was trying my hardest to complete all of my assigned tasks, and answer call lights in a timely manner. I would religiously look at that sheet, and even had my own copy that I would carry with me as a reminder if what I should be doing at what time. As I worked longer and longer, and gained more work experience on the post-operative unit, I no longer needed the sheet because it was embedded into my brain of what I am supposed to do as an employed CNA at Kaiser. In the article, "The McDonaldization of Society" by Robert Keel, it describes today's society as being developed through the process of rationalization, "A far reaching process whereby traditional modes of thinking were being replaced by an ends/means analysis concerned with efficiency and formalized control." (Keel, P.1).

Having worked so long on the floor, and becoming accustomed to the pace and the demands of the floor, I have reprogrammed myself to be quicker and more efficient at work in order to succeed as a CNA on the floor. I would sometimes have 15 patients that I would have to do routine vitals on, that sometimes I would come in, say a few words to the patient, and leave. I do not have a choice in this matter because I am on a time frame of when I am supposed to start and end getting my vitals signs finished, regardless of how many patients I have during a shift. Sometimes when I am extremely busy (which is all the time on my floor), I have to sometimes stop for a minute and remind myself to slow down, and remember that I am there to take care of patients and not robots. The patients that I am caring for are human beings, and most of the time human beings can be unpredictable. You cannot control or expect human beings to look and act all the same, all the time. When I come to work, I usually get in this frame of mind and think in my head of all the tasks I have to accomplish that evening, I sometimes become this robot, and will just go through the motions of the shift.

On my unit, we have experienced a lot cutting of core staff and the amount of hours we are supposed to spend with each patient with each shift we work. With that said, we have less time to spend with patients, and when we are busy, we have little time to converse with the patient. Saying only few words, and being curt to the patients because you are pressed for time can be perceived by the patient as you having a snooty, holy-than-thou attitude. Having this mentality ingrained into your personality is less than desirable when it comes to everyday life, and I have noticed lately that I have let this exact mentality bleed into my own personal everyday interactions. I no longer have this sense of creativity or spontaneity I once had before I started working at Kaiser.

In the article, "George Ritzer's Theory of McDonaldization: A Modern Weberian Theory?" by Cecilia Phenix of the Associated Content, it states that:

"People in society are now concerned with predictability to the point that it seems as society is begging to stay within the proverbial lines. Society has whitewashed all unique characteristics that once colored our movies, malls, dinners, houses and campsites." (Phenix, P.3)

I noticed that in my relationships with my family and friends, my mannerism has changed quite a bit from before, and tend to be very abrupt and curt. I lost a part of my bubbly, carefree personality that I once had that was endearing to my friends and family. Since working at Kaiser, I have been more aware of my mannerisms, and how I have this sort of controlled personality. I tend to get uneasy if something is not done correctly or put away. When I come to class, I want to sit in the exact same chair, and was discombobulated when someone sat in the chair one day. Even with my room, I often will have to straighten up my room when I come home from work because my manger told us that we need to pick up the patients room, and make sure their tidy before the next shift comes on.

Kaiser is very strict about coming onto work on time. We are not considered late if we clock in no more than seven minutes past our scheduled shift time. I also notice that I have picked up a little road rage because I would sometimes be rushing to work just so that I do not clock in past those seven minutes. With doing just regular, everyday tasks that I do, I have this sort of tendency to rush everything and try do to everything as quickly as possible, and this is because at my work, we are always rushing, always pressed for time, and always trying to get everything done before the end of our shift to clock out exactly at 11:30pm. Having been employee of Kaiser for a while and experiencing working in a big HMO, I do not think that Kaiser is living up to their motto of "Thrive".

The article, "Markets, Bureaucracies, and Clans" by William G. Ouchi of Administrative Science Quarterly, talks about how big companies are hiring new workers and "socializing them to accept the company's goals", and then eventually the "employees' natural (socialized) inclination is to do what is best for the firm." (Ouchi, P.132) This has great negative affects because big companies are always trying to convince people to buy their products, or conform to their beliefs by blatantly advertising their "hidden" agenda.

A friend of my mine who worked at Walmart told me that during her time of employment with the company, she had five different bosses that were above her. If she did something wrong, she would only get told what she did was wrong by one boss, but by five different bosses. Having being told so many times what is expected of her as an employee, and also what the standards of the company are, eventually she started to notice that she would do things that were above and beyond her tasks. Having been told what to do so many times, it was eventually embedded into her head, and eventually she did not even have to think about it because it just became automatic. My friend did not even know how to express her concerns or opinions in any matters pertaining to work because she was "socialized" into Walmart's expectations. This is a big way, I think, that huge companies use their money and power to control and exploit their workers in order to gain more money and more dominance in society.

In mainstream society, I feel that people have become dehumanized and desensitized because we no longer have to think for ourselves. We are constantly bombarded with these big companies and images all around us telling us what we should do, eat, think and feel. We have lost our compassion towards each other because we are always thinking about ourselves, and trying to get ahead. We have let bureaucratic ideology control us in all aspects of our professional and personal lives, that it has marred the meaning of what it means to be a human. Writing this paper has made me set a personal goal for myself to not let this mentality continue to overtake my life. Although it has affected parts of my being, it is never too late to change and step away from this ideology, and to be more a person, an individual, a human being.

Henslin, James M. (2009). Essentials of Sociology. A Down-to-Earth Approach. New York: Pearson

Keel, Robert. (n.d.). The McDonaldization of Society. Retrieved 11/28/2009 from

Mander, Jerry. (n.d.). Eleven Inherent Rules of Corporate Behavior. Retrieved 11/28/2009 from http://dieoff.org/page12.htm

Ouchi, William G. (March 1980). Markets, Bureaucracies, and Clans. Administrative Science Quarterly. Vol. 25 No.1 P.129-141. Retrieved 11/28/2009 from http://glennschool.osu.edu/faculty/brown/home/Org%20Theory/Readings/Ouchi1980.pdf

Phenix, Cecilia. (May 14, 2007). George Ritzer's Theory of McDonalization: A Modern Weberian Theory?. Associated Content. Retrieved 11/28/2009 from http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/240243/george_ritzers_theory_of_mcdonaldization_pg3_pg3.html?cat=4