McGregor: Theory X and Theory Y
Theories of Motivation
Douglas Mc Gregor (1906 – 1964), a doctor in psychology at Harvard University, developed a true management theory based on two conceptions of man at work: theory X and theory Y. Its influence was decisive in the field of psychology industrial with the publication, in 1960, of The Human Side of Enterprise:
- An average individual holds an innate abhorrence towards work and will do his best to avoid it;
- All individuals should be controlled, directed, and threatened with sanction so that they invest in more efforts for the achievement of organizational objectives ;
- An average person prefers to be led, wishes to avoid responsibilities, has little ambition, and seeks the safety front first.
Through theory X, the author evaluates that this hypothesis has constituted a fundamental postulate for business leaders and an ideology dominant to which he opposes the postulates of theory Y that he presents as a natural alternative in terms of management method men.
- An individual has the capacity for self-control and self-direction;
- Personal commitment refers to the result of a search for satisfaction of social needs. An individual learns to search for responsibilities; –
- The capability to implement one’s creativity and imagination at the service of an enterprise is standard among men;
- In different working conditions, men’s intellectual possibilities are mainly unused.
Source: Lerner (2011)
McGregor argues that Theory Y and the management style resulting from this theory are more suitable for human nature as the theory allows management to innovate to discover new means of organizing and directing human effort.
He discusses man’s relationship to work and develops the theory X (consumption of W) / Y (fulfillment at work).
For McGregor, there are 2 types of employees who are most often distinguished by their professions. For him, the worker does not understand his work similarly to the engineer. The same is presented in The Human Dimension of the Company. The business world shows several varied and diverse profiles within a single structure. Douglas McGregor proposes classifying these different profiles into two distinct groups. The first group sees work as consumption, while the second group does not perceive work as an unpretentious task but as a means of accomplishment and development (Sorensen & Minihan, 2011).
Theories of Motivation
Theory X: Individuals have an innate aversion to work; therefore, they must be controlled and immersed in a uniform system with a framework and a hierarchy. They are looking for security and basically want to be led. It is, therefore, necessary to favor a rigid structure.
Theory Y: Employees tend to seek fulfillment at work; they demand autonomy, self-control, and decision-making. Their priority is avoiding restrictions and lacking confidence at any cost.
Thus, if we are dealing with individuals with a higher degree of involvement, abundance in the means of controlling will be excessive and may hinder the development of the group. It is, therefore, necessary to favor a flexible structure.
This theory shows that employees might not necessarily require autonomy and empowerment as this can result in misunderstanding and even stress. It is easier if there are fewer skills in an individual to have the actions dictated by a leader instead of having to be an actor in decision-making.
The type of structure, the management style, and the means implemented to promote motivation differ from one individual to another. To generalize, assigning many responsibilities to unskilled or low-skilled jobs is more complicated. The manager’s role is to identify the characteristics specific to each individual or group of individuals to classify them into type X employees and type Y employees (Kochan et al., 2002).
McGregor considers, however, that Theory Y and the resulting management style are more suited to human nature because the theory in question gives the employee the possibility of being an actor within the company and, therefore, of participating in the process of innovation, work organization, and leadership.
In this theory, individual interests can therefore converge toward collective interest.
Indeed the type X individual looking for security will bring a form of sustainability to the organization. Individual Y will ask for training and take the initiative, leading to collective reflection.
It is rare within a company to have only type X employees or only type Y employees. This duality is an opportunity but complicates the task of the manager, who must find the right way to motivate the different profiles.
It is used to show that you cannot manage and therefore create a spiral of motivation and involvement in the same way for all company members. McGregor’s analysis may also go against common opinion. Indeed, a flexible structure and facilitation of initiative do not necessarily increase motivation; on the contrary (Head, 2011).