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X theory and McGregor theory Y

X theory and McGregor theory Y

September 7, 2022

Although when we think about psychology we are usually imagining the study of the psyche and human behavior in a clinical context, the truth is that this discipline works with other multiple fields; It is not limited to a sanitary aspect only. The mind is an object of study that remains active at all times, situations and contexts. One of the areas in which multiple investigations have also been conducted in occupational psychology, of which the Psychology of Work and Organizations is responsible . In this area, elements such as leadership, authority, standards monitoring and employee productivity have been analyzed.

There are many theories that have emerged throughout history and the authors who have worked in this area, including Douglas Murray McGregor, who developed two contrasting theories in which both the way to exercise traditional leadership and another more humanistic are explained for which the author advocated: it's about X theory and McGregor's theory Y . Let's see what they are.


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The X and Y theories of McGregor

From the Industrial Revolution and the emergence of the first factories, there was a need to manage the way in which the workers carried out their work. It is known the large amount of labor exploitation that existed at the time and that has continued over the centuries, with an exhaustive control of what each employee did and providing few freedoms, besides being limited to the realization of one or more tasks specified by management (addressing both what should be done and how).

Numerous revolts carried out to improve the conditions of the workers are also known, which would eventually lead to the creation of unions. The performance and productivity of employees was always something to consider for managers, using different strategies and being the majority the use of control, sanction and coercion to promote productivity, and money as a reward. But except for those people whose basic needs were not met, productivity did not improve excessively.


The emergence of psychology as a science allowed to analyze this type of situations and different theories were elaborated. While the first theories considered the need to exercise greater control and considered the worker mainly a lazy, later came other currents contrary to this belief.

One of these authors, in this case of the twentieth century, was Douglas McGregor. This author is based on Maslow's theory of motivation and his hierarchy of human needs to propose that the lack of motivation and labor productivity is due to the fact that once the basic needs are met, the stimuli necessary to satisfy them are no longer motivating. New needs are generated, such as those of esteem and self-realization that most companies of the time are not interested in supplying. Therefore, it proposes a new mode of business operation in the face of the limitations of the traditional one: theory Y, which contrasts with the traditional model or theory X, both models being mutually exclusive.


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The theory X

The so-called X theory is a McGregor elaboration from which tries to explain the way of understanding the company and the worker who had been the majority until now .

This traditional view considers the worker as a passive entity who must be forced to work, a lazy person who tends to work as little as possible and whose only motivation is to obtain money. He is considered poorly informed, unable to manage the changes and conflicts and unambitious. Without an exhaustive control they would not carry out their tasks.

Under this consideration, management must show leadership capacity and exercise continuous control over employees in order to avoid their passivity. The behavior of the workers will be controlled and all responsibilities will be assumed, providing them with limited tasks.

Leadership is therefore exercised in an authoritarian manner and pointing out what each one should do and how . The rules are strict and strong sanctions, coercion and punitive measures are established to keep employees working. Money and compensation are used as a basic element of motivation.

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The theory Y

In theory X McGregor explains the traditional way of understanding the work that was held from the time of the Industrial Revolution.However, he considers that it was necessary to start from a different theory that had a different vision of the worker and his role in the company. The result of this was the theory Y.

This theory indicates that the administration should be responsible for organizing the company and its resources in order to meet its objectives, but that employees are not a passive element but active unless they are pushed to it . It indicates the value and importance of the motivation and the challenge, a value that is not usually taken advantage of and prevents the workers from developing until reaching their maximum potential. It is also not observed that each individual has its own objectives that often have not been reflected with those of the company.

In this sense, it is the management of the company that must be organized in such a way that the work fosters this development and allows the worker to fulfill not only some objectives to which he does not feel bound, but also in the process of reaching the goals of The company can also achieve its own goals. It is also valued that the commitment is greater when there is an acknowledgment of their achievements , and that applying the capabilities of workers can generate solutions to unforeseen organizational problems or for which management does not have a valid solution.

This theory, which the author defended against the traditional or X, is based primarily on the idea of ​​promoting self-government and favor the self-control and autonomy of the worker, instead of seeing it as another piece of gear. It is proposed to enrich the work by making the worker responsible for different tasks and encourage them to be active and participatory, able to make their own decisions and feel committed to their work. Form, give information, negotiate objectives and responsibilities and generate a climate of trust are fundamental for the good business operation.

It would therefore be a question of exercising a leadership that allows participation and trust, in which the work of the worker is appreciated, in which the work and personal responsibility is extended and enriched (for example through the delegation of responsibilities) and that focuses on the achievement of objectives instead of the authority and personal power.

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Difficulties of implementation of theory Y

The author himself, although he proposes the theory Y as desirable and objective to achieve, recognizes the existence of obstacles and the difficulty of generating a change at a time when the operation of most companies was governed by classical theory. For example, there is the fact that managers should change their way of thinking and reorganize both their organizational structure and its operation , which they will tend to resist.

In addition, it also indicates that it can be difficult for the worker to make this change, because in many cases they have become accustomed to being told and demanded a concrete way to proceed and to be controlled, as well as to have their needs only Satisfy outside of work. The potential of the workers has been limited by the expectation of the management that they are passive entities who must be forced to work, losing much motivation for work.

What does Organizational Psychology say today?

Over time, the paradigm of work was changing and the worker was no longer seen as a merely passive element in a lot of areas. Today we can see how a large majority of companies try to boost autonomy, and that proactivity has become one of the most demanded values ​​in the workplace.

However, other later authors indicated that the Y model does not always have good results: The most optimal type of operation will depend on the type of task to be performed . Other models have been proposed that try to integrate aspects of the traditional (X) and humanistic (Y) view, in the so-called equilibrium theories.

Bibliographic references:

  • McGregor, D.M. (1960). The Human Side of Enterprise. In Yarhood, D.L. (1986). Public Administration, Politics and People: Selected Readings for Managers, Employees and Citizens, New York: Longman Publishing Group; 134-144.
  • Lussier, R. N. & Achua, C. F. (2008). Leadership Mexico: Cengage Learning.

McGregor's Theory X & Y (September 2022).


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