COVID-19 and the Flexibility of the Bureaucratic Ethos

Kirstine Zinck Pedersen*, Paul du Gay

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapterResearchpeer-review


Bureaucracy is commonly associated with a lack of the responsiveness, flexibility and innovative capability deemed necessary for an organization to change rapidly when circumstances dictate. However, with the COVID-19 crisis, evidence is emerging that large professional bureaucracies, such as hospitals, have been able to change their organization, retrain their staff, establish new physical facilities, and introduce new guidelines, technologies and safety procedures with astonishing speed. While what has been termed ‘the customary view’ within the field of management and organization studies continues to claim that flexibility is a product of de-bureaucratization, we seek to investigate an alternative proposition: that within the Danish Healthcare system, rapid and flexible responses during the COVID-19 crisis were linked to classic bureaucratic features such as clear lines of command, explicit hierarchies, formalization, authority based on expertise and office-holding, and a focus on the duties, purposes and ethics of office (that engender a sense of ‘vocation’) as the driving force in making the reorganizations happen.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOrganising Care in a Time of Covid-19 : Implications for Leadership, Governance and Policy
EditorsJustin Waring, Jean-Louis Denis, Anne Reff Pedersen, Tim Tenbensel
Number of pages22
Place of PublicationCham
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Publication date2021
ISBN (Print)9783030826956, 9783030826987
ISBN (Electronic)9783030826963
Publication statusPublished - 2021
SeriesOrganizational Behaviour in Healthcare


  • Professional bureaucracy
  • Emergency response management
  • Formalization
  • COVID-19
  • Denmark
  • Hospital organization

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