Theory X and Theory Y

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Theory X and Theory Y are theories of human motivation that were created and developed by Douglas McGregor at the MIT Sloan School of Management in the 1960s. These theories describe two contrasting models of workforce motivation that have been used in human resource management, organizational behavior, organizational communication and organizational development.

Theory X and Theory Y have to do with the perceptions that managers hold of their employees, which in turn influence their management style.

Theory X[edit]

According to this theory, type X individuals are considered to be inherently lazy and not happy with their jobs. As a result, an authoritarian management style is required to ensure that individuals fulfill their objectives. Workers managed this way need to be closely supervised under comprehensive systems of control. A hierarchical structure is needed with narrow span of control at each and every level. According to this theory, employees will show little ambition without an enticing incentive program and will avoid responsibility when they can. According to Dr. Kumi Mark, if the organizational goals are to be met, Theory X managers must rely heavily on the threat of punishment to gain compliance of employees. When practiced, this theory can lead to mistrust, highly restrictive supervision and a punitive atmosphere. The Theory X manager tends to believe that all actions can be traced back and the individual responsible for them needs to be directly rewarded or reprimanded depending on the action's results. This managerial style is more effective when used to motivate a workforce that is not inherently motivated to perform. It is usually exercised in professions where promotion is infrequent, unlikely or even impossible and where workers tend to perform repetitive tasks in their jobs. One major flaw of this management style is that it limits employee potential and discourages out of the box thinking.

Theory Y[edit]

In this theory, management assumes employees can be ambitious, self-motivated and exercise self-control. It is believed that employees enjoy their mental and physical work duties. According to them, work is as natural as play. They possess the ability for creative problem solving, but their talents are underused in most organizations. Theory Y managers believe that given the proper conditions, employees will learn to seek out and accept responsibility, exercise self-control and self-direction in accomplishing objectives to which they are committed. A Theory Y manager believes that, given the right conditions, most people will want to do well at work. They believe that the satisfaction of doing a good job is a strong motivation. Many people interpret Theory Y as a positive set of beliefs about workers. A close reading of The Human Side of Enterprise reveals that McGregor simply argues for managers to be open to a more positive view of workers and the possibilities that this creates. He thinks that Theory Y managers are more likely than Theory X managers to develop a climate of trust with employees required for employee development. This would include managers communicating openly with subordinates, minimizing the difference between superior-subordinate relationships, creating a comfortable environment in which subordinates can develop and use their abilities. This environment would include sharing of decision-making so that subordinates have a say in decisions that influence them.

Theory X and Theory Y combined[edit]

For McGregor, Theory X and Y are not different ends of the same continuum, but rather two different continua in themselves.

According to McGregor, an assumption that underlies Theory X is that these individuals dislike their careers. Because of this, Theory X supposes that in order for employees to be productive, they require supervision. Contrarily, an underlying assumption of Theory Y is that individuals not only like their careers but are also willing to take on some amount of professional responsibility. Because of this, Theory Y supposes that people do not need supervision in order to effectively perform their job.

LMX theory of Sahin[edit]

Based on employees, we take a closer look at the relationship between supervisors and "subordinates," as some may call them, or workers.[1] The quality of the relationship between the two is described by Sahin as leader-member exchange (LMX) theory. LMX theory is that "leaders develop unique relationships with different subordinates and that the quality of these relationships is a determinant of how each subordinate will be treated".[2]

With these two theories, Sahin combined individual and the organization at the same time. In addition, workers (subordinates) develop feelings of effective commitment if they receive the importance from supervisors not just by overlooking them all the time but by also giving them importance.[3] In addition, look at external link for image, that explains the function of the theory.

McGregor identified people based on two theories, Theory X, or Theory Y. Sahin shows a different approach through his study of the LMX theory. He shows how different styles used upon by management can vary from both theories.

  • When managers apply Theory Y principles, workers receive independence and responsibility for work; they receive opportunities to recognize problems and their job will be to find solutions to them. This results in high-quality relationships.[4]
  • In contrast, Theory X managers highlight the close supervision of workers and the chain of command and motivate subordinates using extrinsic rewards. Therefore, workers that are overseen by Theory X managers tend not to have the most beneficial relationship with their supervisor. They maintain a distance and have impersonal and low-quality exchange relationships.[5]

McGregor and Maslow's hierarchy[edit]

Theory X and Theory Y relate to Maslow's hierarchy of needs in how human behavior and motivation are main priorities in the workplace in order to maximize outputs. In relation to Theory Y, the organization is trying to create the most symbiotic relationship between the managers and workers, which relates to Maslow's needs for self-actualization and Esteem. For self-actualization, the manager promotes the optimum workplace through morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack (or minimization) of the effects of prejudice, and acceptance of facts. We must accept that prejudice exists in others, even as we try to minimize it in ourselves. These issues relate to esteem when the manager is trying to promote each team member's self-esteem, confidence, achievement, happiness, respect of others, and respect by others.

See also[edit]

  • Theory Z, a later work/organizational motivation theory which is likely a derivative of Theory Y
  • Scientific management, another management theory


  1. ^ Sahin, 2012, p. 159.
  2. ^ Sahin, 2012, p. 159.
  3. ^ Sahin, 2012, pp. 162–163.
  4. ^ Sahin, 2012, p. 163.
  5. ^ Sahin, F. (2012). "The mediating effect of leader-member exchange on the relationship between Theory X and Y management styles and effective commitment: A multilevel analysis." Journal of Management and Organization, 18(2), 159–174.

Douglas 2013


  • McGregor, D. (1960). The Human Side of Enterprise, New York, McGrawHill.
  • Patience, H (1973). Organizational behavior Financial Times


External links[edit]