Why do some managers believe that the only way to manage employees is to force and coerce them to work while others adopt a more humane approach? Douglas McGregor, a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, believed that a manager’s actions toward employees were dictated by having one of two basic sets of assumptions about employee attitudes. His two contrasting categories, outlined in his 1960 book, The Human Side of Enterprise, are known as Theory X and Theory Y. McGregor’s theory gives us a starting point to understanding how management style can impact the retention of employees. His theory suggests two fundamental approaches to managing people.
According to McGregor, some managers subscribe to Theory X. The main assumptions of Theory X managers are that employees are lazy, do not enjoy working, and will avoid expending energy on work whenever possible. For a manager, this theory suggests employees need to be forced to work through any number of control mechanisms ranging from threats to actual punishments. Because of the assumptions they make about human nature, Theory X managers end up establishing rigid work environments. Theory X also assumes employees completely lack ambition. As a result, managers must take full responsibility for their subordinates’ actions, as these employees will never take initiative outside of regular job duties to accomplish tasks.
In contrast, Theory Y paints a much more positive view of employees’ attitudes and behaviors. Under Theory Y, employees are not lazy, can enjoy work, and will put effort into furthering organizational goals. Because these managers can assume that employees will act in the best interests of the organization given the chance, Theory Y managers allow employees autonomy and help them become committed to particular goals. They tend to adopt a more supportive role, often focusing on maintaining a work environment in which employees can be innovative and prosperous within their roles.
As you can see, these two belief systems have a large variance, and managers who manage under the X theory may have a more difficult time retaining workers and may see higher turnover rates.
|Theory X||Theory Y|
|The average person dislikes work and will avoid it.|
Most people need to be threatened with punishment to work toward company goals.
The average person needs to be directed.
Most workers will avoid responsibility.
|Most people want to make an effort at work.|
People will apply self-control and self-direction in pursuit of company objectives.
Commitment to objectives is a function of expected rewards received.
People usually accept and actually welcome responsibility.
Most workers will use imagination and ingenuity in solving company problems.
Management 2020 text remixed from multiple sources under a CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. View a complete list of original sources.