Theory X and Theory Y

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'Theory X' and 'Theory Y' are theories of human motivation and management, 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 these theories, there are two types of employees that managers may encounter in the workplace. These models are used by leaders to understand how to best motivate their employees.

Theory X[edit]

According to Dr. Kumi Mark, if organizational goals are to be met, 'Theory X' managers must rely heavily 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 can be traced, and the responsible individual needs 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. One major flaw of this management style is that it limits employee potential and discourages creative thinking.

Theory Y[edit]

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 tension in superior-subordinate relationships, and creating a comfortable environment in which subordinates can develop and use their abilities. This environment would include shared decision-making responsibilities 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 opposite 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 assumption, '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 to be shadowed constantly in order to perform their job to the best of their ability.

LMX theory of Sahin[edit]

Based on employees, you can 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 overseeing them all the time but by also giving them importance.[3]

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 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. It demonstrates 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.

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]