Lazy Bureaucrats? Studying stereotypes of civil servants and its effects across countries


Dedicated civil servants are crucial for a well-functioning society. We all depend on them for our safety, health and mobility. However, civil servants are constantly portrayed as lazy, incompetent and even evil. When studying the literature on stereotypes of civil servants it becomes apparent that there are only a handful of studies on the topic. These are often by American scholars taking a normative stance, arguing that it is unjustified that civil servants are bashed.

Stereotypes of civil servants deserve systematic study. First, negative stereotypes could have severe consequences. There are strong indications that highly skilled workers become less attracted to become a civil servant. Stereotypes also undermine civil servants themselves. They could believe them and behave accordingly. Then, calling bureaucrats lazy becomes a self-fulling prophecy. Second, only basing ourselves on American studies is misleading. Stereotypes most probably differ greatly between countries and between groups within countries.

This project will be the first systematic comparative study on stereotypes of civil servants. It has three objectives:

1. To identify stereotypes of civil servants in three countries with markedly different administrative traditions (South-Korea, Canada, the Netherlands).
2. To determine how stereotypes effect the work performance of civil servants.
3. To analyze how the relationship between stereotypes and performance is strengthened or weakened by the coping strategies used by civil servants to deal with stereotypes.

The project takes an interdisciplinary and multi-method approach to reach these objectives. It combines insights from public administration and psychology to study stereotypes. It uses an innovative combination of representative population surveys, qualitative inquiry and embedded survey experiments.

This project contributes to a deeper understanding about how societies see civil servants, what the effects hereof are and how civil servants can cope with stereotypes.


Publicatie bedoeld voor een breed publiek






Prof. dr. L Tummers

Verbonden aan

Universiteit Utrecht, Faculteit Recht, Economie, Bestuur en Organisatie, Utrecht School of Governance


I. Bertram MSc, N.C. de Boer MSc, R.B. Bouwman MSc, N.M. Breedveld, Dr. E. Charbonneau, Dr. S.G. Grimmelikhuijsen, Prof. M.Jae Moon, S. Neo MSc, G. Szydlowski MSc, Prof. dr. L Tummers


26/12/2018 tot 01/11/2023