Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Peta Sheriff




This thesis addresses an issue which has been relatively neglected in the sociological study of organizations, namely, the relationship between organizations and clients. The specific focus of the research is the effect of internal organizational structure on the organization's orientations towards its client population. Two social service agencies were chosen for a comparative case study of their structures and the ways in which they perceived their clients. The research model treats organizational structure as the independent variable and orientations towards clients as the dependent variable. In addition, the attitudes of staff members towards their work were included as intervening variables.

Data was collected by means of questionnaires and personal interviews with the staff members of the two agencies studied. Other sources of data were organizational documents and the observations of the author of the actual operations of these organizations. Six dimensions of organizational structure were examined: centralization, formalization, complexity, routineness of work, communication patterns, and the power base of the directors of each agency. Three aspects of staff attitudes towards their work were measured: alienation, job satisfaction, and job-related tension. The dependent variable, orientations towards clients, was based on the measurement of five different dimensions: laterality, perceived complexity of clients, the extent to which the agency invested its resources in optimal candidates for 'success', the degree of emotional involvement of staff with clients, and the degree of social distance maintained between staff and clients.

The hypothesis guiding the research was that increased bureaucratization of structure would be related to a higher degree of alienation of staff from their work, lower job satisfaction, and a lower degree of job-related tension. A higher degree of bureaucratization was predicted also to be associated with a low degree of laterality, the interpretation of clients as relatively non-complex, a greater investment of the organization's resources in potentially 'successful' clients, a minimal degree of emotional involvement with clients, and increased social distance between staff and clients.

The results indicated that the dimensions of organizational structure examined tended to vary independently of each other and neither agency could be regarded as completely 'bureaucratic' or totally 'non-bureaucratic'. Similarly, the dimensions characterizing client-orientations were not found to exist to the same degree within each of the agencies. The evidence from the two agencies studied here indicates that the relationship between internal structure and orientations towards clients is more complex than the initial hypotheses had predicted. The findings suggest that specific orientations towards clients are associated with specific dimensions of organizational structure. Some support was also found for the role of technology as an independent variable in relation to other dimensions of structure.

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