Summary of the proposal

There are many negative stereotypes about civil servants. They are called lazy or incompetent. But are such stereotypes universal? And what are the effects of stereotyping? This project investigates stereotypes of civil servants in three countries. It also studies how civil servants (in)effectively cope with stereotyping.”’

Based on NWO VIDI Grant, 016.Vidi.185.017

Note: The text below is based on a press release by Utrecht University.

Students become civil servants

This research perfectly suits the Utrecht University School of Governance. “We train students who will become civil servants or who will otherwise work for the public good. So it is only natural and logical for us to want to investigate what people think about civil servants. “The stereotypical way many people in the Netherlands think about civil servants can have a selection effect. For example, ambitious people may not opt for a job in government because they too, now think negatively about civil servants. It can also become a self-fulfilling prophecy: civil servants may work less hard, if they are often portrayed negatively. I am also curious about how people think about the various types of civil servants. How you think about a police officer may differ form that of a policy maker.Calling civil servants ‘lazy’ can become a self-fulfilling prophecy: civil servants may work less hard, if they are often portrayed negatively.

To date, there is only a handful of research on the subject of stereotypes of lazy bureaucrats.  These publications are often by American scholars taking a normative stance, arguing that it is unjustified that civil servants are bashed. I argue that the subject deserves further investigation for several reasons. First, because negative stereotypes can have big consequences; talented professionals may find it less attractive to become an official. Secondly, it is misleading to rely solely on American research, stereotypes can differ greatly in different countries or different groups of people in one country.

Three countries, different opinions

I will carry out a systematic, comparative study of stereotypes surrounding civil servants in three countries: the Netherlands, South Korea and Canada. I chose these three countries because the population is expected to judge officials differently. South-Korea (possibly generally positive stereotypes), The Netherlands (generally negative stereotypes) and Canada (in between). It will be an interdisciplinary study using multiple methods. It will combine insights from public administration and psychology – Behavioral Public Administration – and make use of population surveys, qualitative research and experiments.

The research will take five years. We will be working on it together with the Canadian professor Etienne Charbonneauthe South Korean professor M. Jae Moon, and Utrecht University colleagues dr. Stephan Grimmelikhuijsen, dr. Robin Bouwman, and Noortje de Boer. The three PhD students are Isa Bertram, Sheeling Neo, and Gabriele Szydlowski. All will be primarily located at Utrecht University, but research visits will be made to Canada and South Korea.


Tummers, L.G. (2019). Public Sector Stereotypes. EGPA Conference Belfast. In preparation for journal submission.

At the moment, we are developing our large scale survey on stereotypes of civil servants in the Netherlands, Canada, and South-Korea.