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LostInParadise's avatar

Are corporations overloaded with useless bureaucrats?

Asked by LostInParadise (23480points) June 3rd, 2014

I came across this article and it got me wondering how valid the argument is. Where I work, there are some mid-level managers whose contributions are less than apparent.

In Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams had an amusing way of making the same point. There is a planet whose government embarks on a program to evacuate everyone before a forecasted catastrophe. They divide the population into three groups – laborers, upper management and middle management. The first group dispatched is the middle management group. It turns out that there is no catastrophe on the horizon. The forecast was just part of a plan to get rid of the do nothing pencil pushers and leave behind the people who do the actual work.

What is your take on this?

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21 Answers

DWW25921's avatar

I think logic does not dictate reality. Here’s something for you…


josie's avatar

Upper management hires mid level management when delegation of authority and responsibility is more efficient and profitable than if they do it themselves.
And it is true that when business gets tough, mid level are often the first to go. But no corporation is going to hang onto useless employees if they can help it. Especially if they are not making money for the corporation.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Oh god, I lived in this hell for longer than I want to admit. I worked for a bank going through serious growing pains. You would not believe some of the shit I could tell you.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

I see very, very busy middle managers and the vp’s going to fancy parties and giving occasional speeches and appearances. There used to be levels of management who took spreadsheets from lower managers, combined them and presented them to upper managers. Those positions are becoming extinct unless there is something else going on like nepotism. I have seen political positions be created as a favor or a return favor. Most of the time people in management have more work than they can get done.

dabbler's avatar

Running big organizations is difficult. Not only are there the challenges of the actual work/product there is the difficulty of getting all the personalities to work together toward common goals.

First-tier management is particularly difficult, in my opinion, partly because those folks directly control and either enable or impair the progress of their staff. Most low-level managers never get any training in management and are winging it. The result is that their performance is a combo of whatever practices the managers they’ve been exposed to used and their personality. Therein lies the source of the utter incompetence of many managers.

As a result, when the axe falls, many low-level managers are tossed out because they cost more than workers and because they often contribute little to the bottom line. It’s a shame because that level of management has at least as much potential to affect the bottom line of the whole firm as any other but are usually neglected in terms of direction to do their jobs.

stanleybmanly's avatar

The actual untold function of middle management is to isolate those who make the big money from those who actually do the work. It is the most thankless position in any organization. Their task is to implement policies dreamed up by those on top, then take the heat from both above and below for the consequences. Theirs are the faces which the wage slaves below identify when its time for give-backs, wage freezes, benefit cuts etc. This being the case, the astute and talented wage slaves frequently avoid the trap of “promotion”, judging correctly that “it ain’t worth it”. Middle management is the eternal rest stop for those with ambition and little talent, and the resulting frustrations are invariably vented downward on those being “managed”.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

It isn’t just the management that gets into the bureaucratic mentality. Some times the clerical workers get into it even worse.

ibstubro's avatar

I worked for the local manufacturing branch of a multi-national and at least half of the local management was extraneous. At rare moments, they would admit to being bored to death, with nothing to do. This often led to changing the focus from producing an efficient, quality product to having meetings and ‘team building’. The plant manager once made the statement that he would value a personable line worker over one that came in every day, did their work to the best of their ability, and went home.

Eventually, they made it so that you had to interview twice and take several written tests in order to get a job cleaning from 11p.m to 7a.m. All the interviewing and testing was as full time job for several managers in a plant of 1,000 people.

syz's avatar

Probably not the successful ones.

Jaxk's avatar

Organizations are as varied as the people that work in them. Management is typically built on a ‘span of control’ model. That is a person can only effectively manage a small group of people. So, as a company grows the layers of management grows with it. It’s a constant struggle to keep organization running well and flatten it at the same time. To add complexity, most companies like to promote from within. Usually the new supervisor will be the best salesman or the best technician , or the best widget bender. This causes a loss of frontline work and adds an inexperienced manager. Over time this can build up into big problems. Too many layers of management with very little management experience. Corrective action at this point is always painful.

GloPro's avatar

Job creation stabilizes the economy. Are you suggesting companies eliminate every useless position?

LostInParadise's avatar

@GloPro , I am not suggesting anything. The article starts off mentioning Keynes’ prediction that we would be working shorter hours. It gives a good argument for why the prediction was reasonable. The explanation for why the prediction was wrong is interesting, but I am not quite convinced that it is universally correct.

Strauss's avatar

@LostInParadise -I’m not sure what the article says, the link does not work. That being said, @DWW25921 mentioned the Peter Principle. It can be summarized to state that a person is promoted to the level of incompetence. Raises and promotions are seen as rewards to be attained. If a person is an outstanding employee, and has performed well in a particular position, the most obvious reward is to promote to a position of higher status, responsibility, and pay.

LostInParadise's avatar

I am familiar with the Peter Principle and it seems to be related.

The link went bad. You can read this article instead. Don’t try to follow the link in it to the original.

Here is another link to the original. The article definitely has a leftist slant, but I still think the point it makes is worthy of consideration.

Jaxk's avatar

Interesting but I’m not sure I buy it. A century ago it took two people full time to keep a home and fund it. We have automated much of the time consuming domestic tasks, cooking, cleaning, ironing, washing dishes and clothes, hell you can even leave the robot home to vacuum while you’re away. so what did we do with that extra time? instead of using it to play we sent another person into the workforce. So now most couples work instead of one staying home. If we reduce the work week to 15 hours would we merely use the extra time to get a second job? Maybe more money is more important than more free time.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

I’ll take the free time.

stanleybmanly's avatar

@Jaxk In many cases that “extra time” is consumed by 1 or 2 “extra” jobs necessary to hold onto that home. The more likely scenario with the reduction to a 15 hour work week would be the necessity to work 5 “part time” jobs, devoid of benefits. It isn’t automation with resulting leisure time that has “allowed” people to work like slaves. The housewife is extinct (for most of us) specifically because the threat of resulting homelessness is just too convincing for even the most naive of us to ignore

Berserker's avatar

I would kind of doubt it, I don’t think corporations would be corporations if they hung on to people they don’t need. might be wrong here, just a guess

El_Cadejo's avatar

Space Goat :P

What happens when we all die from a virulent disease from a dirty telephone?

When I first saw this question the first thing I thought of was actually the Vogon’s

MollyMcGuire's avatar

Not like they used to be. Most American business is pretty lean from what I read. The regulated utilities used to be the worst. Now that they have pretty much been deregulated, they have also trimmed up.

Paradox25's avatar

You know, I can’t even respond to this without great anger, because it’s so damn true. Don’t forget now too, that upper management can break the law, or be drug addicts and not lose their jobs like ‘lower’ workers would. Perhaps some of my points are off topic, but I think they’re related regardless.

Not only do I blame snotty white collar upper tier folks for the downfall of their own companies (who don’t seem to care as long as they’re compensated), but I also blame useless people involved in the hiring process for the supposed skills gap in many employment sectors too.

The fact is many companies are filled with people who don’t have the knowledge or technical know-how to hire the most competent people for many skilled positions. Political correctness in the hiring process has also lead to employers eliminating many decent employees while hiring screwballs or unskilled people. Perhaps in some fields there is a shortage of qualified workers, but from my own personal experience employers are simply rejecting qualified workers for lame reasons like employment gaps, assessment tests, a past minor offense, a single job termination and even overqualification.

In due time even the cushioned ones will lose their mattresses, because wealthy people only have money due to a greater collective. Rewarding unproductive people while punishing the productive ones will always inevitably come back to bite any corporation, union or other entity. I also blame the downfall of many companies on the indifference upper management seems to demonstrate concerning what their lower management and employees are doing too.

With all things considered even, like after an apocalyptic type of event, it would be the useless bureaucrats who would be of least value. In the end it’s only people who give others value, this including currency, when a system is set up to be a certain way, but with anarchy it would be a different ballgame, because money and precious metals/jewelry would have much less value than food, water and skills.

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