Welcome to the Home Page of the Rule Hassle Project

‘Bureaucratic hassle’ is a common characterization of the human experience with bureaucratic rules. It reflects the fact that rules can put obstacles in our way. Rules make us jump through hoops; they can prescribe paths of action that seem unnatural and often feel uncomfortable. Although bureaucratic rules are ostensively produced to serve rational or agreed-upon purposes, they often force ‘rule subjects’ on paths that they normally would hesitate to travel. Equipped with enforcement provisions and the threat of sanctions, rules typically limit the options available to actors and divert their actions into involuntary territory, producing the type of discomfort we usually call ‘bureaucratic hassle’.

In everyday talk, the term ‘bureaucratic rule hassle’ is often used to capture the manifest obstacles that bureaucratic rules put in the way of the rule subjects, that is, when rules make subjects follow tedious, arcane, unnatural procedures that delay, exacerbate or jeopardize the achievement of the subject’s goals. In that sense, ‘bureaucratic hassle’ captures the imposing and sometimes non-sensical obstacles that bureaucratic rules pose for actors' intended course of action.

But the term has also a second meaning. Hassle often refers to the sensation of being hassled. The strain it causes in our mind and body. The exhaustion it leaves behind. We feel hassled when bureaucratic rules make our life difficult, when they wear us out, when they confuse us, when they require specialized knowledge and attention to detail, when they inflict pain or overwhelm us. Such rule encounters can produce negative emotions and corrosive cognitions in rule users. Rule users might get angry when they ‘run into’ rules; they might stress out; they might question the usefulness and purpose of the system. It is this sensation aspect of hassle that we focus on in this project, while considering the manifest obstacles that rules pose as a critical determinant.

Hassle sensations play an important role in organizations. They have significant fallouts in terms of human costs: they intensify workload, diminish productivity, and can lead to cynicism, burn-out, and non-compliance. Hassle imposes a drag on organizations; it absorbs human effort that could be spent in more productive ways. Hassle sensations can stress out individuals and degenerate organizational transactions. They are a type of transaction cost, producing bureaucratic failures (akin to ‘market failures’) within rule-based organizational systems. What makes rule hassle so challenging is that it is mostly intangible. Rule hassle evades traditional methods of accounting and measuring. Hassle is the principal intangible cost of bureaucracies.

What a Hassle: Cognitive and Emotional Reactions to Bureaucratic Rules

This research project explores how rules and procedures impact rule user's perceptions of hassle. We focus on the sensations that rule users experience when they encounter bureaucratic rules. We empirically identify two emotions and three cognitions that play a dominant role in hassle situations and develop scales to measure them. We then explore these hassle emotions and cognitions in different types of rule encounters i.e., situations in which rule users become exposed to realities that are conspicuously structured by rules.

We distinguish three critical dimensions of rule encounters, duration, coerciveness, and legitimacy. Building on previous research, we develop three hypotheses and test them with empirical data collected within a rule-intensive setting. The results suggest that bureaucratic delay duration (rule salience) intensifies hassle cognitions, that coerciveness intensifies hassle emotions, and that legitimacy attenuates hassle cognitions. Overall, our study highlights the role of organizational rules for the emotional and cognitive climate in organizations. It also has important implications for theories of bureaucracies, organizational learning, and institutionalization.

The study is conducted by Martin Schulz, Tina Kiefer, and Laurie Barclay.

For further questions, please contact: Martin.Schulz@sauder.ubc.ca

(Martin's Homepage)