How to Survive Working In a Bureaucracy or Corporation

We’ve all been there. Working for a corporation or government agency that is not as efficient, professional and rewarding as we wanted it to be. Outsiders who are unaware of the hurdles within these organizations can sometimes find themselves struggling in their job search after termination. But what do you need to know about surviving working in an institution?

The “how to survive in a bureaucracy” is a process that can be difficult. There are many ways to deal with the situation, such as learning how to navigate the system and take advantage of opportunities.

Struck man pulling himself to set free.

Note from the editor: This is a guest article by Stephen Fortenberry.

If you had asked those of us who are currently employed to describe our dream job or career path when we were fresh out of college, many of us would have said being our own boss, or at the very least being part of a small group of decision-makers. The present reality for most of us, however, is that we are “anonymous” members of big bureaucratic organizations, which is likely to annoy us. We feel like a gear in the wheel, crushed by the weight of organizational machinery and impotent in the face of mandated regulations, processes, and red tape from outside sources.

I have two pieces of excellent news for anyone who are in this circumstance.

The first is that bureaucracies aren’t necessarily as horrible as we make them out to be, and they may actually have benefits, such as the fact that a well-run organization can do more good in the world than a person could alone. Being an employee rather than an entrepreneur has its benefits as well; for example, not having the whole weight of an endeavor’s success resting on your shoulders may be a relief.

At the same time, the notion of being helpless inside a bureaucracy isn’t totally true; although it may be challenging at times, it is possible to feel empowered within its confines. When you’re a member of an organization, I’ll show you how to do so and function with efficiency and even satisfaction.

Maintain the Core

While organizations big enough to need a bureaucracy are established for a specific goal, many people feel pushed in so many ways that they become disorganized and unable to concentrate on it. To be successful, you must understand the organization’s basic mission, understand how your unique function fits into this objective, and focus your efforts on this core mission. To put it another way, “Put First Things First.”

Distilling your knowledge of your individual function into no more than three notions that serve as lenses to filter your efforts is a useful technique. While having a purpose statement for your business is a wonderful start, most mission statements are too broad, too ambiguous, and too filled with jargon for employees to successfully use in reality. Instead, come up with your own manner of describing which of your tasks contributes the most to the organization’s mission.  

Here are three concepts that I believe outline the basic purpose of what I should be doing as a high school math teacher as an example:

  • Develop proper, professional interactions with pupils to have a beneficial impact on them.
  • Provide children with high-quality mathematics education on a regular basis.
  • Assist other instructors in their attempts to form connections with students and provide high-quality education.

Use this list to drive your efforts via self-discipline and personal effectiveness after you’ve narrowed your collection of important concepts. Find strategies to increase the number of activities that directly contribute to the core mission’s success while reducing the number of activities that do not. It’s worth noting that the term “minimize” was used deliberately, since it’s very difficult to remove all tasks that aren’t related to your job’s essential responsibilities. For example, you must still finish the paperwork that you fear will end up in a “black hole”; as we’ll see, working with the system is an important element of playing the long game and acquiring power.


You should not, however, devote any more time or effort to such jobs than is necessary to produce excellent work. Devote the majority of your efforts to projects that have an influence on what you believe is actually essential.

(WITH) the System at Work

Your thoughts should naturally shift to how to attain these goals after you’ve built a filter to guide your goals inside an organization. It’s crucial to remember that you’re not trying to control your system; rather, you’re trying to work with it. Keeping this in mind can help you resist the want to believe that things would be better if you were in charge. For two reasons, such a thinking is dangerous: 1) It ignores the significance of organizational expertise accumulated over many years of collective experience, and 2) it contradicts the fact that you don’t manage things. Accepting this does not negate the need for improvement in general, nor does it imply that you are powerless to effect change.

It does, however, imply that you should respect and endeavor to comprehend the rationale for the customs you observe. Furthermore, acknowledging the fact that you must operate inside a system lessens the frustration that comes with expecting the world to function our way. Once you’ve acknowledged this, you should think about how to accomplish your main objectives both directly and indirectly, via the growth of influence inside an organization.  

Take Action: Make a Direct Impact

Practically all of us have a set of responsibilities that we are expected to do and for which we are almost completely responsible. My real delivery of teachings in class as a teacher is the finest illustration. Yes, I may need assistance from other teachers and resources from my school system. However, at the end of the day, it is I who stands in front of pupils, either presenting a good, average, or bad lecture. It might be paperwork, presentations, or other things that you’re sending internally or to an external client in your situation.

Take into account not just the huge things you have direct influence over, but also the little things. Simply do a thought experiment in which you analyze all of the effects, no matter how little, of performing your main activities effectively vs performing the same jobs badly. You’re nearly certain to discover that what you do matters, even if it doesn’t transform the world in the manner you imagined in high school or college.

Whether the chores are large or little, there is certain to be something, or a few things, that you have a lot of influence over. 

In a bureaucracy, regulations and procedures controlling the performance of the activities for which you hold ultimate responsibility are almost certain to exist. It’s easy to fall into the trap of using established bureaucratic norms and processes as an excuse for not completing excellent work or accomplishing your main goal. Rather of going down that road, embrace the Art of Manliness’ mantra: Take Action.


First, assess if the bureaucratic regulations and procedures genuinely restrict your capacity to achieve your basic goals, or whether they just need you to change how you go about achieving them. Is it an issue of taste or substance, in other words, that’s holding you back? If it’s only a question of personal choice, the best course of action may be to accept the approach proposed and focus on completing your main responsibilities as quickly as possible. This will help you avoid needless conflict and, as we’ll see later, will help you achieve more long-term influence by avoiding unneeded whining.

If you believe that a dispute over directions is a question of substance, or that what you are being asked to perform defies logic, you may just need to find a courteous method to express your displeasure (more on this below). It’s possible that your idea may be approved, or at the very least that having expressed your view will provide you some happiness.

Alternatively, you may wish to reevaluate your understanding of the policy or directive’s requirements. We typically opt for the most restricted interpretation of a regulation in an attempt to insulate ourselves from any danger, so that we can easily blame the rules if anybody ever finds fault with our behavior. This isn’t an encouragement to disregard all policy concerns and behave in bad faith. However, it does imply that, when presented with a mandate that, if construed in the most draconian of terms, contradicts common sense, you should seek out an interpretation that permits common sense to take its due position. This may entail increasing your personal agency since it may force you to accept responsibility for your interpretation of policy rather than depending on a manager’s clear declaration of wholehearted agreement. Recognize that asking for forgiveness rather than permission is sometimes preferable, and remember that a good manager often favors the common-sense, practical application of rules and procedures developed in good faith, even if they cannot formally approve it. 

Obtain Influence Through Indirect Means

Aside from the things that are directly within your control, there are a lot of other things over which you have little formal control. Ironically, it is often the behaviors over which I have little direct influence that have had the most effect on my attitude about a work.

The first step in dealing successfully with such issues is to accept the reality that you cannot control decisions pertaining to such areas and can only aspire to have some impact. The next phase is to cultivate influence, which is more of an art than a science. The most important lesson to remember when gaining influence is that people matter, therefore you must behave as though they do. Yes, having strong ideas and developing logical arguments is critical. In organizations, however, it is ultimately other humans who make the final choices.


Given this, when attempting to sway a particular decision, I try to strike a balance between how hard I am willing to “fight” for my position and what I consider to be the true measure of influence: whether people who don’t have to keep listening want to keep listening to the words coming out of my mouth. By listening, I mean that they think about what you’re saying and really consider integrating your advice into their choice. I don’t mean they merely thank you for your “candor” and ignore your suggestions. We’re concentrating on choices that are made outside of your direct control, as previously stated. As a result, if the individual or group making the choice no longer wants to listen to you because of prior encounters, you won’t be able to influence any decisions. As a result, there are few arguments worth compromising a good working relationship with a decision-maker or a group of decision-makers. Beyond this guiding concept, I strive to keep the following things in mind when it comes to creating influence:

It takes time to build trust. The most fundamental component of influence is trust. Expect to build trust over time, not just a few exchanges or phony sincerity. Genuine constancy that others can depend on establishes trust, particularly in a bureaucratic atmosphere. This involves both personal interactions and other people’s assessments of your ability to do everyday duties within your control. Ironically, since it’s more easily visible and measurable, how you perform in your larger, more purpose-driven duties is frequently overlooked in favor of whether you accomplish the little administrative chores — such as if a form was completed on time. You may not even be aware that you are being monitored while working on whatever project you are working on, which is another another reason to keep up with your daily responsibilities.

People appreciate it when you make their tasks simpler, and it usually doesn’t take much, if any, more time. Who do you think a decision-maker would like to hear from: 1) the person who frequently misses deadlines for paperwork that doesn’t actually important but must be completed, or 2) the person who constantly completes tedious things without being asked?

“Never complain; never explain”… and never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever The proverb “Never Complain; Never Explain” is good advice in general, but it’s especially good advice in bureaucracies, where there’s a continual desire to try to connect with everyone around us by talking about how much we all despise particular aspects of our jobs. While some venting is essential from time to time, it should be kept to a minimal and almost avoided from your supervisory interactions. Because the previous five of your coworkers they met with complained about the same problems without proposing any solutions, your supervisor is likely aware of many of the systemic issues that irritate you. Be the person who can communicate to people without grumbling; increase your variety of topics with which you may chat.  


If you have to complain, be the one who doesn’t make a complaint without a helpful solution. Above all, never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, For example, as a teacher, I should never complain that my pupils are unmotivated since motivating kids is an important aspect of my work. You are only indicting yourself when you make such allegations.    

“Don’t try to be too smart or too good-looking.” While the poem “If” has valuable life advice throughout, this sentence is particularly essential when expressing an idea. You invite controversy if you offer an idea in a way that even implies it is so wonderful that no reasonable person could possibly disagree with you. This is true even if you have a brilliant concept, since condescension is a widely despised attitude. Furthermore, it’s doubtful that your concept is so perfect that there’s no opportunity for development. Humility is required and appropriate, and it should be communicated.

As it should be, different jobs have different priorities. When seeking to influence a choice that is critical to your work, another cause of aggravation is discovering that it is not a top concern for others. This is particularly true when you’re trying to explain to a supervisor the influence of a choice or existing practice on your fundamental objective. Too frequently, I’ve been surprised to discover that a supervisor hasn’t given much care to issues that affect my ability to fulfill my main tasks.

However, I’ve realized that this is both appropriate and essential. Even if my priorities are in order, only someone in my position should be expected to have priorities that are comparable to mine. It should also come as no surprise that persons in comparable positions to yours do not treat all concerns with the same importance as you do. Rather of assuming someone’s failure to grasp the significance of a choice is due to a lack of care or competence, be prepared to explain it. Even better, be ready to explain why it’s important to them in terms of their priorities. Prioritizing their priorities is also an useful way to determine whether they are the proper person to seek assistance from when dealing with a problem. If your problem has nothing to do with their priorities, locate someone who does.    

Not only do you need to know who to speak to, but you also need to know when to talk to them. As previously said, it is critical to understand others’ priorities and use this information to decide who you choose to communicate with. However, the timing and location of dialogues are equally crucial. When it comes to timing, think about when you are most open to addressing a topic that is essential but wasn’t on your mind at the time. To put it another way, take into consideration human nature. This should rule out initiating a major chat first thing Monday morning about that essential item you thought about all weekend, or starting a large conversation Friday afternoon about that thing you had planned to speak about all week for jobs with a typical Monday to Friday schedule. People are attempting to get back into a routine on Monday morning. Friday afternoon is a good time to finish up and get ready for the weekend. Before going into your “amazing” suggestion, observe their body language or tone at previous times.


Consider the environment in which the debate will take place. In front of a big audience, asking a precise question on an issue you care about seldom yields the greatest outcomes. It irritates individuals who don’t care as much about the subject as you do, and it makes them less receptive to any future remarks you make on other subjects. It may also compel a manager to respond in a more constrained manner than in a private dialogue, allowing for more nuanced debate and better compromise. Instead of huge group “soap box” speeches, prioritize fruitful individual and small group conversations.   


There will undoubtedly be days when you, like me, struggle to understand the benefits of working in a bureaucracy. However, I hope you found this debate to be useful, inspiring, and relevant. While working in a bureaucracy may not always provide opportunity for “heroic” action, the continuous, high-quality execution of daily duties adds up and makes a difference. Do not underestimate an individual’s potential to have a good influence on a system, even if it is a big bureaucracy. As you alter the bureaucracy for the better by doing your daily chores effectively, you become a force multiplier, enhancing your own satisfaction as well as the beneficial impact of your individual and organizational influence on others.

There will undoubtedly be days when you, like me, struggle to understand the benefits of working in a bureaucracy. However, I hope you found this debate to be useful, inspiring, and relevant. While working in a bureaucracy may not always provide opportunity for “heroic” action, the continuous, high-quality execution of daily duties adds up and makes a difference. Do not underestimate an individual’s potential to have a good influence on a system, even if it is a big bureaucracy. As you alter the bureaucracy for the better by doing your daily chores effectively, you become a force multiplier, enhancing your own satisfaction as well as the beneficial impact of your individual and organizational influence on others.

Stephen Fortenberry is the father of three great sons and married to an amazing lady named Kelli. He became a high school math teacher after working as an engineer for a big firm for many years. He recently concluded his sixth year of public school and is overjoyed with the change. Running, strength training, gardening, constructing furniture, golfing, and being a part of Scouting with his eldest son are some of his other hobbies (Christopher).



The “examples of companies that are using approaches to busting bureaucracy” is a list of examples of companies that are using approaches to busting bureaucracy. These include Amazon, Google, and Microsoft.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you survive a bureaucracy work?

A: I am a complete and total bureaucracy work.

Is bureaucracy good for employees?

A: Bureaucracy is a system of government or administration by which the state organization exercises its power through non-elected representatives. The legitimacy of bureaucracys claims to represent the people as opposed to a democracy rests on its ability to control against corruption and interference from private interests, often represented as the public interest.

Is bureaucracy in an organization good or bad?

A: This is a highly subjective question and the answer will depend on who you ask.

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