McGregor’s Theory-X and Theory-Y

This question of motivation has been studied by management theorists and social psychologists for decades, in attempts to identify successful approaches to management.

Social psychologist McGregor’s Theory-X and Theory-Yof MIT expounded two contrasting theories on human motivation and management in the 1960s: The X Theory and the Y Theory. McGregor promoted Theory Y as the basis of good management practice, pioneering the argument that workers are not merely cogs in the company machinery, as Theory X-Type organizations seemed to believe.

Douglas Murray McGregor  (1906–1964)

Douglas Murray McGregor (1906–1964)


The theories look at how a manager’s perceptions of what motivates his or her team members affects the way he or she behaves. By understanding how your assumptions about employees’ motivation can influence your management style, you can adapt your approach appropriately, and so manage people more effectively.

Understanding the Theories : Your management style is strongly influenced by your beliefs and assumptions about what motivates members of your team: If you believe that team members dislike work, you will tend towards an authoritarian style of management; On the other hand, if you assume that employees take pride in doing a good job, you will tend to adopt a more participative style.

Theory X
Theory X assumes that employees are naturally unmotivated and dislike working, and this encourages an authoritarian style of management. According to this view, management must actively intervene to get things done. This style of management assumes that workers:
1. Dislike working.
2. Avoid responsibility and need to be directed.
3. Have to be controlled, forced, and threatened to deliver what’s needed.
4. Need to be supervised at every step, with controls put in place.
5. Need to be enticed to produce results; otherwise they have no ambition or incentive to work.

X-Type organizations tend to be top heavy, with managers and supervisors required at every step to control workers. There is little delegation of authority and control remains firmly centralized.

McGregor recognized that X-Type workers are in fact usually the minority, and yet in mass organizations, such as large scale production environment, X Theory management may be required and can be unavoidable.

Theory Y
Theory Y expounds a participative style of management that is de-centralized. It assumes that employees are happy to work, are self-motivated and creative, and enjoy working with greater responsibility. It assumes that workers:
1. Take responsibility and are motivated to fulfill the goals they are given.
2. Seek and accept responsibility and do not need much direction.
3. Consider work as a natural part of life and solve work problems imaginatively

This more participative management style tends to be more widely applicable. In Y-Type organizations, people at lower levels of the organization are involved in decision making and have more responsibility.

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