McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y

Posted on September 1, 2009 by

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Theory X and Theory Y describe two different management attitudes towards their subordinates. These ideas were developed by Douglas McGregor and can be found in his 1960 book “The Human Side of Enterprise.”

Theory X suggests that employees are lazy and dislike work and responsibility. Because of this, managers must coerce them to work and supervise them closely. The employees do not care about the organization—just themselves. This is a rather negative perspective on human behavior.

In contrast, Theory Y suggests that employees inherently like work, and that work is a natural part of life. They can demonstrate self-motivation and a desire for more responsibilities. This is a much more positive perspective on human behavior.

McGregor’s theory was based in part on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Theory X organizations are satisfying the lower-level needs on the hierarchy, whereas Theory Y organizations are satisfying employees’ higher-level needs. Also see the earlier posting of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (posted June 8, 2009).