Theory X and Y

From CEOpedia | Management online
Theory X and Y
See also

Theory X and Y are two concepts about employees' motivation in the workplace. They were first introduced by a social phycologist, Douglas McGregor, in late 1960's. In his book, called, "The Human Side of Enterprise", McGregor talks about two approaches to management: authoritarian, which refers to Theory X, and participative, in the case of Theory Y[1].

Theory X

In Theory X an average employee is perceived to be uninterested to his or her job and have a negative attitude towards responsibility or initiative. When such style of management is used, employees usually perform repetitive tasks, and appraisals focus on quantitative results, which can be profit margins, revenues, etc.

Main assumptions of Theory X

  • People do not enjoy their job and try to avoid it if there is a possibility.
  • Employees need continuous guidance from their supervisors.
  • Managers have to warn people with punishments in order to make them do the necessary work.
  • Employees do not take initiative in their tasks.
  • Responsibility is highly avoided.
  • People are opposed to any kind of change and try to resist it for as long as possible.
  • Security, specifically in their job, is the priority for people.
  • Employees lack ambition and need materialistic incentives, rewards to stay involved in work.

When describing Theory X in his book McGregor makes a connection to Maslow's famous hierarchy of needs. In the case of this theory employees have lower-level needs, which can be fulfilled with monetary benefits. In addition to this, McGregor insists that once a certain need is satisfied, the motivation behind it disappears. Therefore, this form of motivation in the workplace is not the most effective or long-lasting, since people would need constant incentives to stay committed to their job[2].

Theory Y

Theory Y proposes a juristically different perception of people, where initiative and responsibility are welcomed. The approach used by managers is built on trust and involves collaboration between superiors and their subordinates. Contrary to Theory X, appraisals are based on communication opportunities for development of employees.

Main Assumptions of Theory Y

  • People enjoy their job and are happy to accept responsibility.
  • Employees are creative when solving problems.
  • Challenges are viewed as a positive thing.
  • Employees play a bigger role in decision-making process.
  • There is no need for intense and constant supervision.
  • Workers are not afraid to show initiative and take on challenging tasks.
  • Incentives and rewards revolve around higher-level needs, specifically, self-fulfilment.
  • If their work meets the needs and is rewarding, employees show strong commitment to the company.

Just as it was mentioned before for Theory X, Theory Y also correlates with Maslow's hierarchy of needs. The difference is that in this case the focus is on self-fulfilment and esteem needs. This allows managers to align the objectives of the company with individual objectives of employees[3].

Theory Y and Project Management

In today's world, not many organizations use Theory X, but rather favour Theory Y. Therefore, there are various techniques that managers, with participative approach, implement to motivate employees[4].

  • Enlargement. This method involves widening the scope of an individual's job, which allows for new opportunities, variety, creativity. As a result, needs of esteem and self-fulfilment are satisfied.
  • Participation and Engagement. Managers work in closer collaboration with their team members, include them in the decision-making process. Consequently, when employees have some control over those decisions, they are able to organise their personal work environment more effectively.
  • Decentralization. Companies decrease the amount of higher levels of management, decentralize authority. This results in more subordinates under the supervision of one manager, and delegation of certain responsibilities to the subordinates.
  • Setting objectives. Encouraging employees to set goals for themselves and perform self-assessment at the end of each task. This activity makes people more welcoming of challenges an responsibility.


  1. Douglas McGregor (2006) "The Human Side of Enterprise, Annotated Edition", Published by McGraw Hill Professional, Massachusetts
  2. Stoyan Stoyanov, Monique Diderich, (2017), "An analysis of Douglas McGregor's The Human Side f Enterprise", Published by CRC Press, p.35
  3. Stoyan Stoyanov, Monique Diderich, (2017), "An analysis of Douglas McGregor's The Human Side f Enterprise", Published by CRC Press, p.37
  4. Rory Burke, Steve Barron, (2014) Project Management Leadership: Building Creative Teams, Published by John Wiley & Sons, p. 84-87


Author: Daria Boiko