Theory X and Theory Y

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'Theory X' and 'Theory Y' are theories of human motivation and management. They 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 in human resource management, organizational behavior, organizational communication and organizational development.

According to McGregor's account, there are two contrasting models used by leaders in their efforts to motivate their employees. 'Theory X' stresses the importance of strict supervision and external rewards and penalties; whereas 'Theory Y' highlights the role of job satisfaction and allows scope for workers to approach tasks creatively.

Theory X[edit]

Theory X considers that on the whole, workers dislike their work, and have little inherent motivation to perform well. Therefore, if organizational goals are to be met, 'Theory X' managers must rely heavily on detailed rules and instructions, on close monitoring, and on the threat of punishment to gain employee compliance. When practiced, this theory can lead to mistrust, highly restrictive supervision and a punitive atmosphere. The 'Theory X' manager believes that all actions should be traced and the responsible individual given a direct reward or a reprimand according to the action's outcomes. 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 perform repetitive tasks. A flaw of this management style is that it limits the employee's potential and discourages creative thinking.[citation needed]

Theory Y[edit]

Theory Y, in contrast, is based on the belief that, given appropriate working conditions, most people perform well. The worker is considered as the most important asset of the company. It is believed that workers can derive satisfaction from their physical and mental work, viewing it as a game or as something to be enjoyed. Workers can take responsibility and can solve problems in a creative way, so that they do not need to be shadowed constantly; workers will commit to objectives in proportion to the satisfaction they get from achieving them. Thus, Theory Y managers consider that to achieve the objectives of the company, they must treat each worker as a mature and responsible individual, and adopt a style of participatory, democratic leadership, based on self-direction and self-control and requiring little external control.

Synthesis of Theory X and Theory Y[edit]

For McGregor, Theory X and Y are not opposite ends of the same continuum, but rather two different continua in themselves. In order to achieve the most efficient production, a combination of both Theories may be appropriate. It is likely that a manager will need to take both approaches depending on the evolving circumstances (internal and external) and personalities.

LMX theory[edit]

The quality of the relationship between supervisors and "subordinates" is the focus of leader-member exchange theory (LMX). In F. Sahin's account, LMX theory perceives 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."[1] Workers (subordinates) develop feelings of effective commitment if supervisors, in addition to overseeing their work, treat them as important to the organization.[2] While McGregor identified two overall management styles, based on Theory X and Theory Y, Sahin recognizes that management style may vary between individual relationships. He argues that the quality of these relationships is in general higher when a Theory Y approach is taken than it is with the more distant and impersonal exchange relationship resulting from a Theory X approach.[3]

McGregor and Maslow's hierarchy[edit]

Theory X and Theory Y relate to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which may be applied to show that human behavior and motivation should be main priorities in the workplace in order to maximize outputs. In adopting Theory Y, the organization is trying to create a symbiotic relationship between the managers and workers, and fulfilling Maslow's needs for self-actualization and esteem.[citation needed]

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, pp. 162–163.
  3. ^ Sahin, 2012, p. 163.


  • McGregor, D. (1960). The Human Side of Enterprise, New York, McGrawHill.
  • Patience, H. (1973). Organizational Behavior, Financial Times.
  • 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).
  • Townsend, Robert C.; Bennis, Warren (2007). Up the Organization: How to Stop the Corporation from Stifling People and Strangling Profits. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0787987756. 

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