What’s it: McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y describe two groups of employees. One is motivated by external incentives and requires supervision because they are less likely to take the initiative. Others need autonomy in their work to actualize and develop themselves. The two groups require different management styles to be effective at work.
What are the categories in McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y?
Douglas McGregor developed two theories to describe the two opposite characters. Each requires a different management approach to be effective in the workplace. He labeled Theory X and Theory Y.
Theory X deals with employees who are lazy and must be supervised. They have little ambition at work and tend to avoid responsibility. The main reason they work is to make sure they get income to meet their daily needs. They are typical ordinary workers.
These individuals are more motivated by extrinsic drives than by intrinsic drives. Thus, a more rigid approach, such as through supervision, reward, and punishment, is more effective in directing them to do their jobs and achieve what the company wants. Following are their characteristics:
- More motivated by extrinsic drives when working, such as through rewards and punishments
- Lack of motivation to excel so they don’t show initiative
- Work solely to maintain income
- Performs work according to instructions and procedures, thus requiring it to be clearly defined
- Requires continuous direction because it is difficult to be independent in doing work
- Work effectively if closely monitored at every step; otherwise, they may deviate
- Prefers to be dictated to do work than to have to take the initiative
Theory Y deals with employees who are more intrinsically motivated. They are ambitious and enjoy their work. A strong intrinsic drive makes them work hard and be creative. They seek to improve themselves, though perhaps without adequate direct reward.
These individuals take pride in their work. So, they like to get new challenges because they can grow and develop themselves with them. They are passionate about learning new skills and knowledge, which are essential for their career advancement. Here are their characteristics:
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- Intrinsically motivated and ambitious in their current role
- Motivated to excel and achieve career advancement
- Shows love for work and likes to take the initiative
- Desires autonomy in work for self-actualization
- Motivated by challenges as they strive to develop themselves
- Happy when involved in decision making, especially those related to their work
- Independent at work so requires little direction and supervision
- High curiosity and love to solve problems creatively and imaginatively
Motivating these individuals requires more autonomy. They like to have control and flexibility in their work. It can make them more convenient to actualize abilities and skills on the job. In addition, they like to have responsibility for what they do.
What are the implications of McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y?
The two contradictory characters above require different management styles to be effective in the workplace. For example, the management style suitable for individuals in Theory X is more authoritarian. Meanwhile, individuals in Theory Y need a participatory democratic management style.
But, assigning the right managers to the right employees is difficult. And, some may get stuck in one of the two. For example, an authoritarian manager actually encounters employees with characteristics in Theory Y. Or conversely, a democratic manager must manage employees with characteristics in Theory X.
Implications of Theory X
Management style. Individuals in Theory X need more authoritarian managers to be effective. Managers have full control over employees’ work, monitor them closely, and actively intervene to get things done.
Some large companies with specifically-distributed tasks and jobs commonly use this management style. As a result, employees perform repetitive work and are motivated by external incentives.
Motivating factor. Rewards and punishments become tools to motivate employees. Managers reward those who perform well and threaten those who perform poorly with punishment. Through it, managers can encourage employees to achieve targets.
Managers also need clear rules, instructions, and directions to get employees to work. Without it, employees will not show the initiative to work. In addition, managers also need strict enforcement and supervision.
Negative effect. In some cases, individuals in Theory X require a more rigorous approach. Managers monitor closely, intimidate, and impose direct punishments to encourage employees to work effectively.
But, if the manager is too harsh, employees can lose motivation. They become uncooperative because they think managers are too authoritarian, creating hatred and hostility. Finally, it results in high turnover.
In other cases, managers use a more lenient approach with less oversight and regulation. On the one side, it can indeed create work enthusiasm. But, on the other side, it also gives employees the opportunity to slack off, causing their output to be low.
Implications of Theory Y
Management style. Individuals in Theory Y need a more participatory management style. Managers accommodate employees’ needs for self-actualization on the job. Therefore, they provide less supervision. They believe employees need autonomy and flexibility to do their jobs effectively.
This management approach is usually suitable for companies with a flat organizational structure. This structure allows employees at lower levels to be involved in decision-making. In addition, these organizations need employees to take more initiative instead of waiting for orders.
Motivating factor. Individuals in Theory X are internally motivated. Thus, they may need less external encouragement, such as rewards and punishments. And, it may be just as a complement.
As an alternative, managers can take a more hands-off approach. They give more autonomy and flexibility to employees to be more independent in their work.
Negative effect. When giving employees too much freedom, employees may not be on the path management wants them to be. And they deviate from the main goal, making it difficult to achieve the targets.
In addition, employees in Theory Y may be more individualistic. They focus on themselves and take the initiative for self-interest. As a result, it results in disharmony and bad interpersonal relationships in the work environment.
What to read next
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- Why Are Well-Motivated Employees Important To Business?
- Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation: Examples and Differences
- Taylor’s Theory of Motivation: How it Works, Principles and Criticism
- Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: Importance, Order of Needs and Criticism
- McClelland’s Theory of Needs: Types and How to Satisfy
- Herzberg’s Theory of Motivation: Examples and Explanations
- McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y: Categories, Characteristics, and Implications
- Adam’s Equity Theory: How It Works and A Brief Explanation
- Pink’s Theory of Motivation: Elements and A Brief Explanation