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Green Tape and Job Satisfaction: Do Good Rules Make Employees Happy?

Leisha DeHart Davis, PhD

Associate Professor
School of Government
University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
Knapp-Sanders Building
Campus Box 3330
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3330
Cell: (785) 766-1554
Office Phone: (919)966-4189

Randall S. Davis
Assistant Professor
Southern Illinois University, Carbondale
MPA Program, Department of Political Science
Faner Hall, Mail Code 4501
Carbondale, Illinois 62901
Phone: 618-536-2371

Zachary Mohr
Assistant Professor
University of North Carolina Charlotte
Department of Political Science and Public Administration
Phone: 316-613-9680

Paper presented at the 11th Public Management Research Conference, Madison, WI, June 20
22, 2013.

Green Tape and Job Satisfaction 2

This paper explores the degree to which organizational rules can facilitate job satisfaction in
public sector work environments. By examining the connections between formalization, or the
extent to which rules are written, and three attributes of quality rulesoptimal control,
consistent application, and stakeholder comprehensionwe assess the extent to which wellcrafted rules encourage employees to be more satisfied with work. The findings from a series of
structural equation models indicate that employees perceive written rules as more optimally
controlling, more consistently applied, and more easily understood as compared to unwritten
rules. Furthermore, results suggest that optimally controlling and consistently applied rules
increase job satisfaction. Thus, written rules are a satisfying element of work to the extent that
they increase optimal control and consistent application.

Green Tape and Job Satisfaction 3

Green Tape and Job Satisfaction: Do Good Rules Make Employees Happy?
Written organizational rules have been construed by scholars and practitioners as both boon and
bane to employee morale. From the boon perspective, the extent of written organizational rules
has been linked with higher organization commitment (Morris and Steers 1980; Michaels et al.
1988; Podsakoff, Williams, and Todor 1986), higher job satisfaction (Snizek and Bullard 1983;
Zeitz 1984), lower self-estrangement from work (Organ and Greene 1981) and greater
satisfaction with the work environment (Zeitz 1983, 1984; Stevens, Diedriks and Philipsen
1992). From the bane perspective, written rules have been associated with less intrinsic pride in
work (Greene 1978), lower organization commitment (Zeffane 1994) and less satisfaction with
various facets of work (Rai 2013, Aiken and Hage 1966, Rousseau 1978, Finlay et al, 1995,
Dewar and Werbel 1979).
One potential explanation for the divergent effects of written rules on employee morale is
the failure by these studies to capture the nature of written rules themselves (Adler and Boris
1996). Consequently, it is unclear whether rules themselves or particular qualities of rules are
influencing the morale effects observed in these studies (DeHart-Davis 2009).
This paper seeks to overcome this gap in knowledge by using green tape theory to
examine the influence of rule attributes on public employee job satisfaction. Green tape theory
argues that achieving effective organizational rules involves creating well-designed rules and
stakeholder cooperation, i.e., good rules that people follow. Five attributes of rule design and
implementation are expected to increase the likelihood of achieving well-designed rules and
stakeholder cooperation: written and logical requirements that are consistently applied, optimally
controlling, and have purposes understood by stakeholders.

Green Tape and Job Satisfaction 4

In crafting theoretical linkages between green tape attributes and job satisfaction, we rely
on scholarly conceptualizations of job satisfaction as a a pleasurable or positive emotional state
resulting from the appraisal of ones job or job experiences (Locke, 1976, p. 1300). The
favorable emotions tied to job satisfaction develop as employees experience and evaluate
elements of the work context. One specific element of the work context, the design and
implementation of organizational rules, is likely to shape ones job satisfaction (Wright and
Davis, 2003). Accordingly, the presence of four green tape attributes in workplace rules is
expected to increase job satisfaction: consistent rule application by conveying procedural
fairness (Leventhal 1976); optimal control by enabling self-determination (Gagne and Deci
2005); and rule comprehension (both rule logic and understanding) by reducing work alienation
(Blauner 1964). If these arguments are valid, they imply that the manner of rule design and
implementation has significant implications for job satisfaction in public organizations.
To test these expectations we examine quantitative data collected from two local
government organizations in the Midwestern U.S. The statistical technique we employ,
structural equation modeling, corrects for measurement error and examines complex causal
relationships between rule attributes and job satisfaction. The results of the analysis suggest that
rule design and implementation are significant contributors to public employees satisfaction

Theory and Hypotheses

In crafting theoretical linkages between green tape attributes and job satisfaction, we rely on
scholarly conceptualizations of job satisfaction as a cognitive exercise that involves the continual
assessing ones standing within the organization (Organ 1988). In the context of organizational

Green Tape and Job Satisfaction 5

rules, we borrow on this conceptualization to contend that public employees interpret attributes
of rule design and implementation as signals of their value to the organization. If these
arguments are valid, they imply that the manner of rule design and implementation have
significant implications for job satisfaction in public organizations.

Consistent Rule Application and Job Satisfaction

Green tape theory argues that the consistent application of organizational rules across individuals
and groups increases rule effectiveness by eliciting stakeholder cooperation with rule
requirements and ensuring organization-wide implementation of managerial preferences
(DeHart-Davis 2009). In the context of job satisfaction, consistent rule application is expected to
increase job satisfaction through perceptions of fairness in the procedures that allocate system
resources (Leventhal 1980). The concept of procedural fairness was originally identified in the
context of legal settings (Thibaut and Walker 1975) but later expanded to organizational settings
generally (Leventhal 1980) and authoritative procedures specifically (Tyler 2006). The
procedural fairness literature focuses on two major precursors, the influence that individuals
have over decision-making processes, such as presentation of evidence and voice (Folger 1977;
Thibaut and Walker 1975) and the characteristics of processes used in decision-making
(Leventhal 1980). Of the two precursors, process characteristics appear to exert more influence
on decision influence (van de Bos, Vermunt, & Wilke, 1996, Colquitt 2001).
Consistent rule application is one attribute of the decision characteristics model of
procedural fairness.1 Conceptually, the consistency of decision rules furthers procedural fairness
by imparting advantage to no particular individuals, yielding equality of opportunity for

Other characteristics include accuracy of results, bias suppression, the correctability of

decisions, representativeness, and ethicality (Leventhal 1976, 1980).

Green Tape and Job Satisfaction 6

everyone, and leveling the playing field (Leventhal 1976: 40). The relationships of consistency
to procedural fairness have been born out in a range of studies, including experiments with
university students (Colquitt and Jackson 2006; Sheppard and Lewicki 1987; Van den Bos,
Vermunte, and Wilke 1996), multinational corporate managers (Kim and Mauborgne 1991),
citizens (Tyler 1990, 1991) and test takers (Ployhart and Ryan 1998). In studies comparing the
relative effects of the six procedural fairness principles, consistency appears to be one of the (if
not the) most important influence (Barrett-Howard and Tyler 1986; Greenberg 1986).
The link between procedural fairness and job satisfaction relies on the assumption that
job satisfaction is based in part on comparisons that organization members make between their
own workplace treatment and that of other organizational members (Organ 1988). Organizational
members use comparisons about procedural fairness to interpret their own status, identity and
belonging within the group (De Cremer and Tyler 2005), which informs the organizational
members assessment of the long-term potential of their relationship with organizational
authorities (Tyler 1989). Unfair procedures (such as those inconsistently applied across people
and groups) lead organization members to perceive themselves as having less standing and group
value (Bryant 2010) and a more uncertain long-term relationship with their organization (De
Cremer and Tyler 2005). Such negative comparisons are conceptualized as damaging to job
satisfaction and empirically supported in empirical studies of savings and loan corporation
employees (Mossholder, Bennett, & Martin, 1998), performance management system trainees
(Masterson, Lewis, et al. 2000); employees of two private firms in the Midwest (Moorman
1991); clerical employees (Dittrich and Carrell 1979); tellers and customer service managers in a
large Midwestern bank (Bettencourt and Brown 1997); retail sales personnel (Dubinsky and
Levy 1998); and federal employees (Alexander and Ruderman 1987).

Green Tape and Job Satisfaction 7

Based on the empirical evidence linking procedural fairness and job satisfaction, and on
conceptualizations of consistent rule application as one dimension of procedural fairness, we
hypothesize that:

H1: Employees who perceive consistently applied rules will indicate higher job
satisfaction than those who perceive inconsistently applied rules.

Rule Control and Job Satisfaction

Organizational rules evoke formal control, defined as processes by which managers direct
attention, motivate, and encourage organizational members to act in ways desirable to achieving
the organizations objectives (Cardinal, Sitkin and Long 2010: 56). Rule control pertains to the
level of discretion enabled by rule requirements, with high control constraining and low control
enabling the discretion of individual organizational members. Green tape theory envisions this
control along a continuum that relates to the technical capacity of the rule for achieving
organizational objectives, as well as stakeholder cooperation in doing so (DeHart-Davis 2009).
The continuum contains a theoretical optimum that imposes just enough constraint and allows
just enough discretion -- for achieving rule objectives. Rule control above the optimum is
inefficient, reducing more discretion than necessary for achieve rule objectives and wasting
organizational effort. Rule control below the optimum imposes inadequate constraint (and
excessive discretion) than necessary for achieving rule objectives and thus is ineffective.
Although organizational behavior researchers emphasize overcontrol, (Engel 1969, Landau and
Stout 1979), managerial undercontrol can undercut organizational effectiveness and must be
considered in crafting an effective rule (Bozeman 2000, 95).

Green Tape and Job Satisfaction 8

The level of control contained within an organizational rule is expected to affect job
satisfaction by altering an employees sense of self-determination, which is based on a sense of
autonomy, competence and relatedness (Gagne and Deci 2005). Autonomy makes individuals
feel that their actions are self-determined and have an internal locus of control (Ryan and Deci
2000). Competence relates to the sense that one can effectively execute optimally challenging
tasks and achieve desirable ends (Baard, Deci and Ryan 2004). And relatedness provides a
feeling of positive social connection to the workplace, mutual respect and reliance (Baard, Deci
and Ryan 2004). The autonomy, competence and relatedness arising from manager-supervisor
relationships have been linked to job satisfaction and other indicators of employee morale in a
variety of private sector settings (Illiard, et al, 1993; Baard, Deci and Ryan 2004).
In the context of organizational rules, control can increase or decrease employee
autonomy depending on the level of constraint imposed by the rule. When control is high, it
reduces the employees perception that required behaviors are self-chosen (Weibel 2010) and the
feeling that employees are connected to their jobs (Adler and Boris 1996). For example, in the
scientific management era, work procedures dictated every workers physical movement,
rendering the level of discretion and autonomy to near-zero (Biljsma-Frankema and Costa 2010).
When control is optimal neither too high or too low required behaviors are not highly
specified, leaving room for autonomous action and a greater sense that the locus of control is
Reduced autonomy is the implicit causal mechanism that lies between excessively
controlling rules and various forms of lower employee morale, including lower organizational
commitment (Stazyk et al 2011), less likelihood of fulfilling job aspirations (Aiken and Hage
1966), and lower job satisfaction among New York state agency employees (Wright and Davis

Green Tape and Job Satisfaction 9

2003), information technology managers in health and human service agencies (DeHart-Davis
and Pandey 2005; Dutch health care professionals (Tummers 2012), and public and nonprofit
managers in Georgia and Illinois (Chen 2012).
Rule control may also influence the competence dimension of self-determination by
signaling the extent to which managers trust employee abilities to execute tasks without
excessive direction (DeHart-Davis 2009). The extent to which employees perceive that managers
hold favorable impressions of their abilities has been linked to positive employee morale
measured as organizational citizenship behavior, intention to quit, and affective commitment
(Brower et al 2009; Colquitt Scott and Lepine 2007). In the context of organizational rules,
coercive qualities (including excessive control) essentially ask employees to check their brains
at the door (Adler and Boris 1996: 83), suggesting a lack of faith in employee capacity to act
effectively. In support of these arguments, red tape (excessively controlling and ineffective rules)
has been linked to lower employee morale both directly (DeHart-Davis and Pandey 2005) and
indirectly, through lower self-efficacy (Wright 2004).
Finally, the level of control in a rule poses implications for the relatedness dimension of
self-determination. Relatedness theoretically leads people to internalize group values as a result
of feeling respected and relied on by a group (Baard, Deci and Ryan 2004). When a rule is
optimally controlling, it potentially enables organization members to identify with the
organization by conveying organizational objectives along with trust that organization members
are capable of pursuing those objectives without excessive control. In a similar vein, the enabling
rule which construes organization members as capable of problem solving without excessive
direction enables them to identify, rather than disconnect, with the organization (Adler and
Boris 1996: 80). In support of these arguments, formalization has been linked with higher

Green Tape and Job Satisfaction 10

organizational identification among scientists and engineers (Organ 1978), presumably by
providing a Gestalt within which he can define more reassuringly the nature of his own
contribution to the larger enterprise (Organ and Greene 1981). However when rule control
exceeds that required to achieve rule objectives, it can convey a distrust in employees that
disrupts social relationships and emphasizes power distance (Weibel 2010: 442).
Assuming that rule control levels affect the autonomy, competence and relatedness
dimensions of self-determination, and based on the relationship between self-determination and
job satisfaction, we expect that:
H2: Employees who perceive optimally controlling rules will indicate higher job
satisfaction than those who perceive excessively controlling rules;

Rule Comprehension and Job Satisfaction

Green tape theory holds that two attributes of organizational rules, logical design and understood
purposes, increase rule effectiveness (DeHart-Davis 2009). Logical design pertains to the valid
relationship between rule requirements and rule objectives: when the requirements of a rule
logically relate to the managerial objectives that rules seek to serve, then the rule has a higher
chance of achieving its purposes than a rule that lacks such a connection. Rule comprehension
relates to the extent to which rule stakeholders those who explain, comply or enforce a rule
understand the rules managerial objectives. Rule stakeholders who understand a rules
managerial objectives are better likely to comply with the rule (DeHart-Davis 2009b), thus
increasing rule effectiveness (DeHart-Davis, Chie and Little forthcoming). While logic is a
characteristic of rule design and understanding is an attribute of rule implementation, perceptions
of each are expected to influence job satisfaction through the same psychological mechanisms.

Green Tape and Job Satisfaction 11

Accordingly, for analytical ease we combine these concepts under the category of rule
Rule comprehension is expected to enhance job satisfaction by increasing the
meaningfulness of work activities. Meaningfulness occurs when employees experience work
processes and outcomes as significant and worthwhile, which theoretically contributes to higher
order needs satisfaction (Hackman and Lawler 1971). Conversely, the absence of intrinsically
meaningful activity is thought to increase workplace alienation (Seeman 1959), conceptualized
as a general cognitive state of psychological disconnection from work (Kanungo 1979). One way
that work loses meaningfulness is by increasingly complex divisions of labor that reduce an
employees ability to see his or her contribution to organizational goals (Kanungo, 1982:26;
Erikson 1986). An organization members perception that s(he) plays no significant role in
overall production processes has been empirically correlated with aspects of workplace
alienation (Mottaz 1989).
One theoretical mechanism for increasing the meaningfulness of work is to provide
explanations for the purpose of organizational activity. Such was the approach in a laboratory
experience in which research subjects were randomly assigned to uninteresting activities with
and without explanations of purpose (Deci, Eghrari, Patrick, and Leone 1994). Subjects who
received an explanation for the uninteresting activity were more likely to continue working on it
even when the experiment was over. This result led the researchers to conclude that rationales for
activity increase intrinsic motivation to engage in that activity, without the requirement to do so.

H3: Employees who understand rules purposes will indicate higher job satisfaction than
employees who do not understand rule purposes.

Green Tape and Job Satisfaction 12

Research Design
The data for testing these hypotheses were collected in 2010 from paper and Internet surveys
distributed to the employees of two large local government organizations in a Midwestern state.
The sampling frame was drawn from the lists of employees provided to the research team by the
local government organizations, representing 3,216 possible respondents.
The research team sought to evaluate the perceptions of employees throughout the
organizational hierarchy. As such, questionnaires were distributed to all members of both
organizations. All communication between researchers and respondents was structured based on
the tailored design method for mixed mode surveys (Dillman, Smyth, & Christian, 2009). In
both cities the city managers office alerted employees of the opportunity to participate, and
informed them that participation was voluntary and responses would remain confidential.
Surveys were distributed electronically to the majority of employees, but paper questionnaires
were distributed to those without regular email access and those who preferred the paper form.
The workplace rules survey instrument included measures designed to tap job satisfaction
and rule attributes (DeHart-Davis 2009). Each survey process began with an alert letter from the
local government managers offices to employees expressing support for the study and
encouraging participation. Within two weeks, survey invitations were distributed to employees
via email containing a hyperlink to the survey along with guarantees of respondent
confidentiality. This process yielded 1,665 usable responses, representing a response rate of 52
percent. The demographic characteristics of survey respondents are outlined in table 1.
Although this paper examines the relationship between consistent rule application,
optimal rule control, rule comprehension, and job satisfaction other explanatory variables could
influence perceptions of formalization attributes and job satisfaction. As such, several variables

Green Tape and Job Satisfaction 13

have been included in the model as covariates to rule out potential alternative explanations.
First, the written quality of organizational rules rule formalization -- is included in our model.
While we do not formally hypothesize directions for the indirect relationship between rule
formalization and job satisfaction, we expect positive relationships between rule formalization,
rule consistency, optimal rule control, and increased rule comprehension. The written quality of
formalized rules should enable consistent rule application by conveying explicit preferences for
organizational behavior (Kieser Beck and Tainio 2001: 600); increase the likelihood of optimal
rule control by enabling organizational rules to be better constructed and vetted than their
unwritten counterparts (DeHart-Davis, et al, forthcoming); and enhance understanding of rule
requirements by making rules explicit and their logic more transparent (Adler and Boris 1996).
We also include several demographic variables including age, gender, race, and
management status as full covariates. Age is a continuous variable measured in years. Gender
takes a value of 0 for males and a value of 1 for females. Race takes on a value of 0 for whites
and 1 for nonwhites. Finally, those respondents in managerial roles are assigned a value of 1,
whereas others are assigned a value of 0. For the purposes of this analysis the written nature of
rules is modeled as a predictor of rule attributes, and the demographic characteristics of
respondents are modeled as predictors of all latent variables.


Our theoretical constructs are measured using multiple survey items. First, formalization
is defined by three questionnaire items that assess the degree to which employees observe
organizational rules as available in writing. Second, three items assess the degree to which
organization members feel rules are optimally controlling. Third, three measures evaluate the

Green Tape and Job Satisfaction 14

degree to which employees perceive rules as being applied consistently. Fourth, rule
comprehension is measured by four items that examine the degree to which employees feel rules
are logical and valid. All rule measures derive from DeHart-Davis 2009, with the exception of
the second rule formalization measure, which is borrowed from Aiken and Hage 1967. Finally,
job satisfaction is measured using three items designed to tap employees affective evaluation of
the work experience. The descriptive statistics for all model variables are included in table 2,
and each item is discussed in greater detail in the appendix.


A preliminary analysis of manifest variables indicated that steps should be taken to

recover missing information. Table 1 illustrates the percentage of missing information on
demographic covariates, and table 2 illustrates the percentage of missing data for each manifest
variable in the model. Current missing data analysis techniques, such as multiple imputation and
full information maximum likelihood estimation (FIML) can effectively recover lost information
resulting from missing data (Allison, 2003; Graham 2009). For the purposes of this analysis
missing data were recovered using FIML estimation. FIML estimation allows for specifying the
measurement model without needlessly discarding observations that provide useful information
in the analysis, and is superior compared to many other missing data strategies (Enders, 2010;
Enders & Bandalos, 2001). FIML, however, discards observations with data missing on model
covariates and observations with no usable information for the analysis. This reduced the
number of usable responses for the structural equation model to 1,313.

Green Tape and Job Satisfaction 15

The statistical techniques we employ in this paper, confirmatory factor analysis (CFA)
and structural equation modeling (SEM), are advantageous for at least two reasons. First, CFA
and SEM correct for measurement error by using several manifest variables to measure
underlying latent constructs. Latent constructs are defined by the shared variance between
observed variables, and the unique item variance is assumed to be measurement error (Kline,
2005). Second, SEM allows for specifying more complex models that account for indirect
effects. This model explores the influence of formalization on job satisfaction through rule
control, consistent application of rules, and rule comprehension.
Before exploring the findings from the CFA and SEM models it is necessary to discuss
some elements of model specification and estimation. An analysis of preliminary models
suggested that the theoretical model did not adequately fit the data. Results from the
modification indices suggested that those items with bipolar scales (e.g. written to unwritten or
logical to illogical) shared non construct specific variance. Although not depicted in the diagram
each variable with a bipolar scale was allowed to load on a bipolar wording construct. The
bipolar wording construct extracts the shared variance in these items due to bipolar wording from
construct specific variance. This resulted in a model that more accurately represents the data.
Second, due to the scaling of the observed variables it may not be reasonable to treat them as
continuous variables. As such, we modeled all variables in the analysis as ordered categorical.

Prior to examining relationships between constructs it is necessary to determine if the theoretical
model is an accurate representation of the data. General rules suggest that RMSEA .08 ,

CFI .90 , and NNFI .90 indicate models that adequately fit the data. The results from the

Green Tape and Job Satisfaction 16

measurement model we present in figure 1 surpass model fit recommendations for the CFI and
NNFI, while falling short of model fit guidelines for the RMSEA. Determining quality of model
fit, however, should not be based on a single fit statistic. Since two of the three fit statistics we
examine suggest that our model is a good fit to the data we examined the relationships between
constructs with a structural equation model.


In the structural equation model we introduced four demographic covariates to rule out
possible alternative explanations. The inclusion of these covariates increased the model fit to
acceptable levels on all three fit statistics (see figure 2). The findings we present in the structural
equation model also suggest that the relationships between job satisfaction and elements of
formalization are complex. First, two of the three hypothesized relationships are significant.
Those employees who report more optimally controlling rules also report greater job satisfaction
( p .05 ). Likewise, employees who believe rules to be more consistently applied also report
higher degrees of job satisfaction ( p .001 ). Second, although we did not specifically
hypothesize about these effects, rule formalization significantly correlates with higher levels of
the other green tape attributes. In particular, employees who perceive higher levels of
formalization also believe that rules are more optimally controlling, perceive rules as more
consistently applied, and better comprehend rules. Figure 2 provides the standardized parameter
estimates from the structural equation model


Green Tape and Job Satisfaction 17

Finally, we tested a model where rule formalization was used to predict job satisfaction.
That relationship was insignificant, suggesting that the influence of written rules on job
satisfaction is fully mediated by the other rule attributes. This finding comports with our
expectation that written rules increase job satisfaction through more optimal control, consistent
rule application, and rule comprehension. Although the SEM diagram illustrates several direct
relationships, it does not provide information of the total effect of written rules on job
satisfaction. Total indirect effects are the product of multiple direct effects (Kline, 2005). In our
analysis the indirect effect of written rules on job satisfaction through optimal rule control is .125
( p .05 ), the indirect effect of written rules on job satisfaction through consistent rule
application is .256 ( p .001 ), and the indirect effect of written rules on job satisfaction through
rule comprehension is .045 (n.s.). The total indirect effect of written rules on job satisfaction is
estimated as the sum of all indirect effects, which in this model is .426 ( p .001 ).
Unlike traditional regression models that estimate a single R 2 value associated with the
dependent variable, structural equation models estimate multiple R 2 values for each endogenous
variable. First, the demographic covariates in the model explain 1.6% of the variation in written
rules. Second, the demographic covariates and the written nature of rules explain 35.2% of the
variation in optimal rule control, 73.9% of the variation in consistent rule application, and 72.5%
of the variation in rule comprehension. Finally, the three rule attributes and demographic
controls explain 32.9% of the variation in job satisfaction. Taken as a whole the R 2 values
suggest that our model has reasonable explanatory capacity.
Finally, there are a few significant relationships between demographic control variables
and other model constructs. First, female survey respondents indicate working in less formalized

Green Tape and Job Satisfaction 18

work environments, whereas non-white employees indicate more formalized work environments.
Female employees and managers are more likely to perceive rules as optimally controlling,
whereas older employees and managers indicate greater consistent rule application. Female
employees and managers are more likely to indicate higher rule comprehension. Finally older
employees, nonwhite employees, and managers report higher degrees of job satisfaction. Table 3
reports the unstandardized parameter estimates and significance levels for the relationships
between each of the demographic covariates and other model constructs.


Discussion and Conclusions

Studies of written rules and job satisfaction have focused on formalization, the extent of written
rules in organizations, rather than attributes of that formalization that can affect employee morale
(Alder and Boris 1996). This study departs from that approach by testing the relationship
between specific attributes of organizational rules and job satisfaction. This approach contributes
a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between bureaucracy and employee morale.
The attributes examined in this study are identified by green tape theory, which identifies
five attributes of rule design and implementation argued to increase the likelihood of
organizational rule effectiveness (DeHart-Davis 2009). We extend the relevance of three of these
attributes to job satisfaction, first through consistent rule application, which is theorized to
convey the procedural fairness (Leventhal 1976, 1980) that communicates the value and standing
of individual group members (Cropanzano 2007; De Cremer and Tyler 2005) and thus increases
job satisfaction (Alexander and Ruderman 1987). Optimal rule control imposing neither

Green Tape and Job Satisfaction 19

excessive nor inadequate constraint in rules is expected to enhance job satisfaction by
increasing employee self-determination through greater autonomy, a sense of individual
competence, and connection to the work environment (Ryan and Deci 2000). Rule
comprehension, the combined green tape attributes of logical rule design and stakeholder
understanding of rule purposes, is expected to increase job satisfaction by increasing the
meaningfulness of work activities, one part of higher-order needs satisfaction (Hackman and
Lawler 1971).
The hypotheses are tested using a structural equation model of survey data collected from
the employees of two local government organizations in a Midwestern state. The model uses
multiple measures of consistent rule application, optimal control, and rule comprehension, as
well as the written quality of organizational rules, which is employed as a precursor to other
The results suggest that the data fit the theoretical model, with two of the three
hypotheses supported and nearly 1/3 of the variance in job satisfaction explained. Consistent rule
application and optimal control (measured as the absence of excessive control) are significantly
correlated with higher job satisfaction. Rule comprehension is an insignificant influence on job
That consistent rule application correlates with job satisfaction suggests that managerial
discretion involves tradeoffs, between the flexibility of managers to tailor rules to the situation at
hand and the morale of employees who observe them doing so. Does this mean that managers
must apply rules consistently regardless of the needs of the situation at hand? Not necessarily.
Consistent rule application is not about never bending rules, but rather not systematically
exempting individuals and groups from rule requirements. While it is unclear the nature of

Green Tape and Job Satisfaction 20

consistent rule application observed in this data, it is clear that perceptions of rule consistency
have tangible morale effects, regardless of underlying managerial intentions. From a scholarly
perspective, this finding applies the theoretical concept of procedural fairness to organizational
rules and expands its testing from private to public sector settings.
The correlation between perceived rule control and job satisfaction suggests that selfdetermination in an importance influence on employee motivation. Logically, excessive control
lowers autonomy, conveys managerial distrust in employee competence, and disrupts the
relationship between individuals and organizations. While this research did not measure these
interim mechanisms, the strength and significance of the relationship between rule control and
job satisfaction suggest their presence.
Rule comprehension is not a significant influence on job satisfaction. This nonfinding
may be due to the greater strength of consistent rule application and rule control on job
satisfaction or important distinctions between the work context and job characteristics. First, the
work context refers to observable elements of of the organization, such as formalization, that
shape the relationship between organization and employee. Alternatively, job characteristics
refer to specific tasks associated with one's work that shape employee growth and development.
Job characteristics are an important predictor of job satisfaction through task significance, social
meaning of work, and employee growth. Rules and formalization, in the abstract, are an element
of the work context that need not necessarily influence job characteristics. For example, an
organization may impose a rule that an employee who is 5 minutes late for work receives a
formal reprimand. However, that does not change how the employee carries out their duties
during the routine course of work. An employee could say that this rule is excessively

Green Tape and Job Satisfaction 21

controlling due to the seemingly narrow time frame, which reduces satisfaction, but still believe
that their work duties are socially meaningful.
Second, it could also be that rule comprehension belongs to the set of hygienic
motivators whose presence does not necessarily increase job satisfaction, but whose absence
lowers it (Herzberg, Mausner and Snyderman 1959). To explore this possibility, we examined
the relationship between rule comprehension and job satisfaction, expecting that a hygienic
motivational influence should exhibit no linear relationship to job satisfaction. The raw data
depicts a linear trend, suggesting that rule comprehension is linearly related to job satisfaction,
but a weaker influence compared with consistent rule application and optimal control.
Caveats accompany all research and this study is no exception. In collecting data from
the employees of two local government organizations, we raise questions about the
generalizability of results to other forms of government. There are also measurement issues,
notably optimal control measured by the absence of excessive control: such an approach fails to
capture rules that are inadequately controlling. While undercontrolling rules are less common,
they nonetheless represent a potential phenomenon for which future research should account.
The combination of rule understanding and logical rule design into one measure, rule
comprehension, blurs the original theorys conceptualization of green tape as rules logical
designed in an objective sense, but understood more or less in a subjective sense. While the use
of survey data to test these concepts has all been subjective, future research should seek to
distinguish them to test the theorys validity.
Caveats aside, the data suggest that organizational rule design and implementation have
tangible effects on public employee morale. From the perspective of those who study
formalization and its outcomes, it will no longer be enough to look at the extent of written rules

Green Tape and Job Satisfaction 22

and its effects on employee morale. Rather, formalization varies in specific and theoretical ways,
as do its outcomes. Generalizing beyond formalization, organizational structure can no longer be
construed as a monolithic whole; it, too, is variegated and that variegation has implications for
organizational outcomes. This study is hopefully one small step in that direction.

Green Tape and Job Satisfaction 23

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Appendix: Operational Definitions
Written Rules
The extent of formalization, or the degree to which rules are written, was assessed using three
items, all borrowed from DeHart-Davis 2009 except for the second item, from Aiken and Hage
1968. All items were scaled such that higher values indicate a greater degree of written rules.
Respondents were asked to evaluate the extent of written rules based on the following
1. Please rate the rules in your workplace between the following opposite characteristics:
Written to Unwritten [1=Unwritten; 5=Written]
2. Whatever situation arises, my work division has written policies and procedures to follow
[1=Strongly Disagree; 2=Disagree; 3=Niether Agree nor Disagree; 4=Agree; 5=Strongly
3. To what extent are unwritten rules a problem in your workplace [1= A Major Problem;
2=Somewhat a Problem; 3=Not a Problem].
Rule Comprehension
Rule comprehension was assessed using four items introduced by DeHart-Davis 2009. All items
were scaled such that higher values indicate a greater degree of rule comprehension.
Respondents were asked to evaluate the extent of written rules based on the following
1. Please rate the rules in your workplace between the following opposite characteristics:
Logical to Illogical [1=Illogical; 5=Logical]
2. For the most part, policies and procedures in my work division are logical [1=Strongly
Disagree; 2=Disagree; 3=Niether Agree nor Disagree; 4=Agree; 5=Strongly Agree].

Green Tape and Job Satisfaction 33

3. Please rate the rules in your workplace between the following opposite characteristics:
Clear Purposes to Unclear Purposes [1=Unclear Purposes; 5=Clear Purposes].
4. I understand the purpose of most of the policies and procedures in my work division
[1=Strongly Disagree; 2=Disagree; 3=Neither Agree nor Disagree; 4=Agree; 5=Strongly
Rule Consistency
Rule consistency was assessed using three items from DeHart-Davis 2009. The first two were
rated on a five point scale and the third was rated on a three point scale. Respondents were asked
to assess agreement with the following statements:
1. Please rate the rules in your workplace between the following opposite characteristics:
Consistently Applied to Inconsistently Applied [1=Inconsistently Applied;
5=Consistently applied]
2. Policies and procedures in my work division are administered consistently [1=Strongly
Disagree; 2=Disagree; 3=Niether Agree nor Disagree; 4=Agree; 5=Strongly Agree].
3. To what extent are inconsistently applied rules a problem in your workplace [1= A Major
Problem; 2=Somewhat a Problem; 3=Not a Problem].
Rule Control
Rule control was assessed using three items rated on a 5-point scale (DeHart-Davis 2009).
Respondents were asked to assess agreement with the following statements:
1. To what extent are misunderstood rules a problem in your workplace [1= A Major
Problem; 2=Somewhat a Problem; 3=Not a Problem].
2. Please rate the rules in your workplace between the following opposite characteristics:
Burdensome to Not Burdensome [1=Not Burdensome; 5=Burdensome]

Green Tape and Job Satisfaction 34

3. Please rate the rules in your workplace between the following opposite characteristics:
Adequate Control to Excessive Control [1=Excessive Control; 5=Adequate Control]
Job Satisfaction
Job satisfaction was assessed using three items rated on a 5 point scale. Respondents were asked
to assess agreement with the following statements:
1. Doing my job gives me a sense of personal satisfaction [1=Strongly Disagree;
2=Disagree; 3=Niether Agree nor Disagree; 4=Agree; 5=Strongly Agree].
2. I am proud to work for this organization [1=Strongly Disagree; 2=Disagree; 3=Niether
Agree nor Disagree; 4=Agree; 5=Strongly Agree].
3. My work is rewarding [1=Strongly Disagree; 2=Disagree; 3=Niether Agree nor Disagree;
4=Agree; 5=Strongly Agree].
Model Controls
This project uses a series of socio-demographic variables as covariates, or model controls. The
following demographic characteristics were collected in the survey instrument:
Race was dichotomized to reflect white and non-white employees.
Role in the organization was dichotomized to include management and non-management.

Green Tape and Job Satisfaction 35

Table 1: Respondent Demographics



















Other (e.g., Asian,
Pacific Islander, etc.)
Organizational Role
Department head
Administrative or
policy staff
Lead worker


Green Tape and Job Satisfaction 36

Table 2: Descriptive Statistics

% Missing






































































Job Satisfaction1





Job Satisfaction2





Job Satisfaction3





Green Tape and Job Satisfaction 37

Figure 1: Standardized CFA Estimates














.546 .675 .723

.248 .708 .846

.776 .868 .790


.740 .840 .724 .697

Job Sat.


.857 .650 .968

Model Fit: (88, n=1,523) = 1256.829, p < .001; RMSEA = .093(.089, .098); CFI = .961; NNFI(TLI) = .947

Green Tape and Job Satisfaction 38

Figure 2: Standardized SEM Estimates







Model Fit: (133, n=1,313) = 1195.671, p < .001; RMSEA = .078(.074, .082); CFI = .962;
NNFI(TLI) = .948
Note: * p .05 ; ** p .01 ; *** p .001

Job Sat.

Green Tape and Job Satisfaction 39

Table 3: Parameter Estimates and Significance Levels for Demographic Covariates

Managerial Role

Written Rules



Managerial Role

Optimal Control



Consistent Rule Application

Managerial Role


Managerial Role

Rule Comprehension


Managerial Role

Job Satisfaction