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Office Space: Bureaucracy in the Workplace

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 1134 words Published: 8th Sep 2017

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The 1999 film, Office Space, characterizes an unhappy employee that works for a generic software company named Initech, which is structured as a bureaucracy. The main character, Peter Gibbons, eventually gets fed up by his job and the pressured environment in the workplace as a result of the bureaucratic environment. As a result of being fed up, Peter decides to rebel with the help of his two friends, Samir and Michael Bolton, and devise a computer program to steal from the company in small decimal amounts, but accidentally end up stealing a large amount. Meanwhile, the company decides to promote him while Peter is rebelling against the company.

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Bureaucracy, as defined by Max Weber, has six elements: first, the element of specialization of the job each worker does; second, bureaucracy has a “rule of many by the few” in which only one or a few people have rule of authority; third, bureaucracy has rules and regulations that the workers must follow; fourth, it is the characteristic of technical competence; fifth, it is the component of impersonality; finally, sixth, bureaucracy has formal written communication and official documentation. Weber’s characteristics of bureaucracy are shown to be in agreement with what is shown in the film.

The first element is shown through the employees of Office Space. It is shown that each employee of Initech has a specific role that they contribute in the workplace. For example, Peter Gibbons, Michael Bolton, and Samir are all part of the computer programming component of the company while Lumbergh and the seven bosses that Peter has are part of the management component of the company. The purpose of having different people to complete different aspects of a company is to increase efficiency, however, the movie also shows that the computer programmers write the bank software to save space, such as taking out two digits (97 instead of 1997), but they have to go back into the program and change thousands of numbers so all of them only have two digits instead of four, which, in itself, is inefficient but it still emphasizes that only the computer programmers in the company have to do that, and that is what their job/contribution is in the company.

The second element address that there is only one of few people that have rule of authority in the company, and in the film, this ‘rulers’ would be Lumbergh and the seven other bosses that are part of management. But in these eight bosses, there is a hierarchy of management, giving the company a pyramid-like structure. The pyramid was Lumbergh up at the top, then Peter Gibbons, then Michael Bolton, then Samir, and then Milton, who would be at the very “bottom of the food chain,” with no authority in any situation or over anyone. This pyramid also contributes to the blatant difference in salary, as the film shows the employees’ general, family cars while Lumbergh had a Porsche in the same parking lot.

Rules and regulations, as the third element of bureaucracy, are shown in the film in the very popular ‘TPS Report’ scene of the movie in which Dom Portwood confronts Peter Gibbons:

“Dom Portwood: Hi, Peter. What’s happening? We need to talk about your TPS reports.

Peter Gibbons: Yeah. The coversheet. I know, I know. Uh, Bill talked to me about it.

Dom Portwood: Yeah. Did you get that memo?

Peter Gibbons: Yeah. I got the memo. And I understand the policy. And the problem is just that I forgot the one time. And I’ve already taken care of it so it’s not even really a problem anymore.

Dom Portwood: Ah! Yeah. It’s just we’re putting new coversheets on all the TPS reports before they go out now. So if you could go ahead and try to remember to do that from now on, that’d be great. All right!” (credit: IMDB Office Space Quotes)

This scene in the film is showing how Dom Portwood, the vice president reprimands Peter for not using the correct cover sheet on a report even though there had been a memo detailing the new procedure. Even when Peter said that it was a simple mistake and that he had a copy of the memo Portwood insists on sending another copy of the memo. This shows that the bureaucracy must follow a strict set of rules and regulations in order to be successful, and the management must make it clear that such mistakes will not be accepted in order to keep the important of rules and regulations high in priority.

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The fourth aspect of bureaucracy is the technical competence. In the movie, the two consultants are brought into the company to assess the efficiency and competence of each employee in the role that they are in, and they do this so the company’s efficiency can be increased. This is interesting because it would seem that a company is run on many people, in many different departments, to successfully run a company, however they are laying off employees to increase efficiency, but that is really just the code phrase for “downsizing.” Peter, for example, is probably the antithesis of efficiency and competence because he says to one of the consultants that he “stares at his desk” and gets about “15 minutes of work done” in an actual week.

The fifth element is impersonality, which means that corporations and bosses don’t actually consider getting to know their employees important. They, instead, write impersonal memos to their employees, and do not identify them as individuals. For example. Samir has been working in Initech for five years, and his name is still mispronounced. And the bosses, especially Lumbergh, are always just saying things like, “did you see the memo,” instead of addressing the person they are talking to.

The final element is the need to officialize and formalize all documentation in the office. This also falls under the category of rules and regulations because the need to document everything is overemphasized, such as in the example in which Peter forgot a coversheet and how that little issue became over exaggerated enough for the vice-president to come and point it out. Examples of official documentation in Office Space include TPS reports, memos, files, and personal records of each employee that the company keeps, but nothing is really personal about that file – just an impersonal set of information of each employee.

Overall, the 1999 film cleverly points out the flaws of a highly bureaucratized work environment, and Weber’s Theory of Bureaucracy is also portrayed in the film.


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