Theory X and Theory Y – Organizational Behavior

Theory X and Theory Y (Organizational Behavior)

The 1950s were a fruitful period in the development of motivation concepts. Three specific theories were formulated during this period, which although heavily attacked and now questionable in terms of validity, are probably still the best-known explanations for employee motivation. These are the hierarchy of needs theory, Theories X and Y, and the two-factor theory. In this article we are discussing Theory X and Theory Y.

Douglas McGregor proposed two distinct views of human beings: one basically negative, labeled Theory X, and the other basically positive, labeled Theory Y. After viewing the way in which managers dealt with employees, McGregor concluded that a manager’s view of the nature of human beings is based on a certain grouping of assumptions and that he or she tends to mold his or her behavior toward employees according to these assumptions.

Under Theory X, the four assumptions held by managers are:

1. Employees inherently dislike work and, whenever possible, will attempt to avoid it.

2. Since employees dislike work, they must be coerced, controlled, or threatened with punishment to achieve goals.

3. Employees will avoid responsibilities and seek formal direction whenever possible.

4. Most workers place security above all other factors associated with work and will display little ambition.

In contrast to these negative views about the nature of human beings, McGregor listed the four positive assumptions that he called Theory Y:

1. Employees can view work as being as natural as rest or play.

2. People will exercise self-direction and self-control if they are committed to the objectives.

3. The average person can learn to accept, even seek responsibility.

4. The ability to make innovative decisions is widely dispersed throughout the population and is not necessarily the sole province of those in management positions.

The motivational implications are best expressed in the framework presented in the above theories. Theory X assumes that lower-order needs dominate individuals. Theory Y assumes that higher-order needs dominate individuals. McGregor himself held to the belief that Theory Y assumptions were more valid than Theory X. Theory Y conclusions are considered as positive that would make approaches like participative decision making, responsible & challenging jobs, and good group relations would maximize an employee’s job motivation.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence to confirm that either set of assumptions is valid or that accepting Theory Y assumptions and altering one’s actions accordingly will lead to having more motivated workers. The Theory X and Theory Y assumptions may be appropriate in a particular situation.

The above are pure theories and more research oriented. In practice managers may adopt theories X or / and Y partially depending upon their managerial styles. The conclusion we have already highlighted in the above paragraph.

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