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McGregor's Theory X and Theory Y of Employee Motivation - HRM Coursework Example

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Middlebury College
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Douglas McGregor was a social psychologist, and in the 1960s he established two contrasting theories of human motivation and management which he labeled to be Theory X and Theory Y. The two theories explain the managers beliefs on the concept of employee motivation and explicate how the views shape and influence the style of management (Yurtseven and Halici, 2011). The two theories describe opposing models of workforce motivation that managers apply in organizational behavior, human resource management, and organizational development together with communication.

Theory X

Theory X emphasizes the significance of strict supervision, penalties and external rewards in attempts to motivate the workers. This theory depicts to be authoritative. Managers who employ theory X tend to have a have pessimistic opinions about the workers and assume that they are naturally unmotivated and therefore they do not like their work (Trout, 2017). Furthermore, the theory elucidates that workers will try to avoid responsibilities when left to work alone and thus they need constant direction. For this reason, these managers think that employees continuously require supervision, punishment, and reward for them to complete their tasks (Herron, 1978). Remunerations are given to employees that perform exemplary, and appraisals are based on the tangible results such as an increase in profit margins and sales as well as the product output. Porter and Steers mention that workers have to be forced, controlled and threatened in order to deliver the desirable outcome (Porter and Steers, 2003). If employees are left on their own, they will not have any ambition or incentives to work. In view of this, enticing them with rewards will help to accomplish the organizational goals.

Companies that employ the approach of theory X in their management have various tiers of managers and supervisors who direct and oversee the workers operations. There is no delegation of authority, and therefore control of the organization firmly remain to be centralized. The authoritative nature of the managers is used to intervene when management endeavors to make the carry out their tasks in the right way. Workers are individual-goal oriented, and less intelligent compared to their managers. The theory thus stipulates that the organizational workforce operates more efficiently under the "hands-on" management approach. Therefore, this style of motivation in management works well with a workforce that is intrinsically motivated to perform their tasks. According to Mariotti, the hard approach calls for close supervision, imminent punishment, and intimidation (Mariotti, 2004). On the other hand, the soft approach alludes that there should be less regulation of the workforce to encourage employee morale.

Theory Y

Theory Y is a participative model, and it stresses the role of job satisfaction in achieving organizational goals. This theory encourages employees to approach their tasks without the need of having direct supervision. The theory assumes that workers are happy to deliver their work basing on their initiatives and they are self-motivated. The management should involve people in decision making and also allow them to take ownership of their operations. Employees accept responsibilities given to them and thus require little supervision (Pepitone and Bruce, 2000). The job is fulfilling and challenging thus creating job satisfaction. More importantly, workers solve the organizational problems creatively and imaginatively. Currently, this theory of motivation has become popular in many businesses, and it denotes the employees increasing desires for attaining meaningful career development.

Theory Y managers have positive opinions and are ordinarily optimistic about their employees. The management style is decentralized and also encourage the building of trust and development of the collaborative relationship between the team members and the managers. Employees tend to have greater responsibilities, and the managers help them to develop their skills along with suggesting ways for enhancing improvement (Yurtseven and Halici, 2011). Therefore, workers are exposed to opportunities for promotion. Appraisals are also used in this theory. However, contrary to theory X, appraisals are incorporated in the management to encourage an open form of communication and not to control the workers. Opportunities for promotion exist.



Herron, V. (1978). A descriptive analysis of McGregor's Theory X and Theory Y. Pittsburgh, Pa.

Mariotti, N. (2004). A qualitative analysis of Douglas McGregor's Theory X and theory Y.

Pepitone, J. and Bruce, A. (2000). Motivating Employees. Blacklick, USA: McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing.

Porter, L., Bigley, G. and Steers, R. (2003). Motivation and work behavior. Boston: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Trout, J. (2017). Motivation and the sense of understanding in theory construction. Motivation Science, 3(3), pp.304-317.

Yurtseven, G. and Halici, A. (2011). Importance of the Motivational Factors Affecting Employees Satisfaction. International Business Research, 5(1).


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