Pathology or Inconvenience? A Meta-Analysis of the Impact of Red Tape on People and Organizations

Date01 December 2021
Published date01 December 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2021, Vol. 41(4) 623 –650
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734371X20924117
Pathology or Inconvenience?
A Meta-Analysis of the
Impact of Red Tape on
People and Organizations
Rutger Blom1, Rick T. Borst2,
and Bart Voorn1
Red tape has been viewed as a key concept in public administration for decades and
one that can significantly impact the human resource management (HRM) process.
Theoretically, red tape is argued to (a) constrain organizational practices, (b) alienate
employees from their organization and, ultimately, (c) lower performance. However,
there is some debate about how detrimental red tape is, and empirical evidence is
mixed. Using a meta-analytic approach, we aggregated findings from previous studies to
test the impact of red tape and to assess sources of heterogeneity across studies. The
results provide support for the constraining and alienating effects of red tape, although
red tape’s impact on performance seems negligible. Furthermore, operationalizations
of red tape and study context moderate some meta-analytic correlations. The lack of
longitudinal and intervention studies and the use of single respondents remain the key
limitations of current research, and therefore, future research is still needed.
red tape, organizational outcomes, individual outcomes, meta-analysis
Since the beginning of public administration as a research field, red tape has been a
topic of great interest (Kaufman, 1977). Viewed as an aspect of public organizations
1Institute for Management Research, Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
2School of Governance, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands
Corresponding Author:
Rutger Blom, Institute for Management Research, Radboud University, Heyendaalseweg 141,
Room 02.222, 6525 AJ Nijmegen, The Netherlands.
924117ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X20924117Review of Public Personnel AdministrationBlom et al.
624 Review of Public Personnel Administration 41(4)
that negatively affects organizational practices and employees, numerous studies have
investigated the effects of red tape along a wide range of outcomes, such as organiza-
tional performance (Brewer & Walker, 2010; Jacobsen & Jakobsen, 2018), employee
attitudes (Baldwin, 1990; Scott & Pandey, 2005), and employee behaviors (Quratulain
& Khan, 2015; Taylor, 2016). A central facet of red tape is the presence or perception
of rules that entail a compliance burden and have no legitimate goal (Bozeman, 1993),
which separates it from concepts such as formalization and green tape (DeHart-Davis,
2008; Pandey & Scott, 2002).
In contrast to the claim that red tape has negative consequences for public organiza-
tions in all circumstances, some scholars have argued that these consequences are
moderated by procedural outcomes and that red tape may not have a significant effect
across all outcomes (Brewer & Walker, 2010; Kaufmann & Feeney, 2014). In other
words, these scholars contend that red tape has a different impact across stakeholder
groups and outcomes (Bozeman, 1993). Furthermore, empirical evidence on the out-
comes of red tape is often mixed. For example, Park and Rainey (2012) found that red
tape had a significant negative relationship with organizational effectiveness, while
Pandey et al. (2007) found no significant results. As a result, red tape might not have
the overall detrimental effect it is claimed to possess.
In view of the mixed claims and evidence, a systematic analysis can provide a valu-
able overview of the effects of red tape and help the knowledge base understand how
red tape matters for managing people and organizational performance. Given the bulk
of studies that have quantitatively investigated red tape, it is worthwhile to examine,
summarize, and aggregate the evidence so far using a meta-analytic approach. Meta-
analysis is a powerful approach to aggregate findings from previous studies that can
reliably measure the relevance in a wide range of circumstances, including various
contexts and measures (Borenstein et al., 2011; Hunter & Schmidt, 2004). In addition
to obtaining general effect sizes, meta-analysis allows us to investigate the presence
and sources of heterogeneity in these effect sizes.
With our study’s approach, we take up the call by Perry (2012) for more meta-
analyses in public administration and we engage with recently published meta-analy-
ses in a public sector context (Cantarelli et al., 2015; Gerrish, 2016; Harari et al., 2017;
Homberg et al., 2015). The remainder of the article starts with a discussion of the defi-
nitions and operationalizations of red tape and with an overview of the theoretical
arguments about the impact of red tape. Next, the method of our meta-analyses is
described. This is followed by an overview of the results of our meta-analysis. We
conclude with a discussion of the results and suggestions for future research and for
Definition and Measurement of Red Tape
A variety of definitions and operationalizations of red tape have been introduced since
the start of the academic literature on red tape. Although red tape was introduced as a

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