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"Theory X" and "Theory Y"

"Theory X" and "Theory Y" are terms devised by sociologist Douglas McGregor, in the late 1950s, to describe two fundamentally contrasting theories towards the nature of work and human motivation. "Theory X" is the view that workers basically do not want to work, and will do anything to avoid it; the essential business of management is therefore to use a combination of threats and rewards to keep their workers at work. "Theory Y" is the view that work is in fact as natural to human behavior as play or rest; management can thus function best by harnessing this natural human tendency to make the workers' own workmotivations harmonize with the needs of the organization.

The following report is a survey of McGregor's Theory X and Theory Y: their origins, their content and assumptions, their origins and place in broader human psychology, and their effect on practical supervision in the workplace. It will be argued that attitudes towards McGregor's concept of Theory X and Theory Y  and indeed, towards the problem of motivation in general  have varied with broader social and economic trends. In general, however, Theory X and Theory Y have played relatively little practical role in effecting workplace attitudes and relations.

I. Traditional Attitudes Towards Work. One sometimes sees a bumper sticker  most often on the back of a pickup truck  which proclaims that "I owe, I owe, so off to work I go." The owner of a vehicle with such a bumper sticker is likely to be a member of the working class (that is, someone with a "job," rather than a "career"), and he or she is saying several things at once about our attitudes towards work. First and foremost, the bumper sticker says that work is done because of brute necessity: because "I owe." But the bumper sticker is also a play on words, specifically on the lyrics of the famous song in Disney's "Snow White:" "Highho, highho, it's off to work we go." In the fairytale movie,...

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"Theory X" and "Theory Y". (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 15:03, February 22, 2017, from