Theory X & Theory Y

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Theory X and Theory Y represent two sets of assumptions about human nature and human behavior that are relevant to the practice of management. Theory X represents a negative view of human nature that assumes individuals generally dislike work, are irresponsible, and require close supervision to do their jobs. Theory Y denotes a positive view of human nature and assumes individuals are generally industrious, creative, and able to assume responsibility and exercise self-control in their jobs. One would expect, then, that managers holding assumptions about human nature that are consistent with Theory X might exhibit a managerial style that is quite different than managers who hold assumptions consistent with Theory Y.

The first section explains the development of Theory X and Theory Y. Second, the effect of Theory X and Theory Y on management functions is discussed. Third is a criticism of Theory Y followed by the concluding section, Theory X and Theory Y in the twenty-first century.

After the Hawthorne experiments and the subsequent behavioral research of the 1930s and 1940s, the human relations approach to management joined the classical perspective as a major school of management thought. Whereas the classical school as espoused by management pioneers such as Frederick Taylor and Henri Fayol focused on principles of management, scientific selection and training, and worker compensation, the human relations approach emphasized behavioral issues such as job satisfaction, group norms, and supervisory style.

The human relations model was hailed as a more enlightened management paradigm because it explicitly considered the importance of individual and how managers could increase productivity by increasing workers' job satisfaction. The end goal for management increased employee productivity; the assumption was that satisfied workers would be more productive compared with workers who felt antagonized by the companies they worked for.

In the 1950s, Douglas McGregor (1906-1964), a psychologist who taught at MIT and served as president of Antioch College from 1948-1954, criticized both the classical and human relations schools as inadequate for the realities of the workplace. He believed that the assumptions underlying both schools represented a negative view of human nature and that another approach to management based on an entirely different set of assumptions was needed. McGregor laid out his ideas in his classic 1957 article "The Human Side of Enterprise" and the 1960 book of the same name, in which he introduced what came to be called the new humanism.

McGregor argued that the conventional approach to managing was based on three major propositions, which he called Theory X:

1.Management is responsible for organizing the elements of productive enterprise-money, materials, equipment, and people-in the interests of economic ends. 2.With respect to people, this is a process of directing their efforts, motivating them, controlling their actions, and modifying their behavior to fit the needs of the organization. 3.Without this active intervention by management, people would be passive-even resistant-to organizational needs. They must therefore be persuaded, rewarded, punished, and controlled. Their activities must be directed. Management's task was thus simply getting things done through other people. According to McGregor, these tenets of management are based on less explicit assumptions about human nature. The first of these assumptions is that individuals do not like to work and will avoid it if possible. A further assumption is that human beings do not want responsibility and desire explicit direction. Additionally, individuals are assumed to put their individual concerns above that of the organization for which they work and to resist change, valuing security more than other considerations at work. Finally, human beings are assumed to be easily manipulated and controlled....
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