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Theory X and Theory Y describe two contrasting models of workforce motivation applied by managers in human resource management, organizational behavior, organizational communication, and organizational development.
Differentiate between the motivators in Theory X and the motivators in Theory Y
Theory X and Theory Y, put forward by Douglas McGregor, describe two contrasting models of workforce motivation and management.
Theory X is a much more traditional management style, predicated on the assumption that external rewards, punishments, and supervision are effective ways to manage employees.
Theory Y focuses on the internal mechanisms of motivation (relative to the employee), assuming that employees have a natural drive to contribute, take ownership of their work, and pursue organizational objectives on their own.
While Theory Y may seem optimal, it does have some drawbacks. Through empowering everyone towards autonomy, it can be easy to lose organizational alignment. Strong organizational objectives and processes are necessary in order for it to work.
There is some balance to be achieved between these two perspectives, though Theory Y motivators tend to be the preferably approach to building strong collaborative cultures.
Among the many theories of motivation is Douglas McGregor's concept of Theory X and Theory Y. His initial work focused on demonstrating two contrasting motivators in the workplace: external motivators such as supervision, rewards, penalties, and rules (X) versus internal motivators such as passion, job satisfaction, accountability, and feelings of self-worth (Y).
The true value in creating this contrast is understanding the situations where X or Y may work better, and recognizing that motivation is both internally and externally complex. To draw something of a parallel here, Maslow's hierarchy has some loose alignment with McGregor's theories, wherein the lower levels of the hierarchy are more along 'X' lines while the higher levels have more of a 'Y' feel to them.
The core assumption here is that, in a given workplace environment, employees won't have the intrinsic motivations required to accomplish objectives. Instead, a system should be in place where external motivators create desired behavioral outcomes. This is considered more of a firm managerial approach, where management will set objectives, supervise execution, and provide corresponding returns.
This can be implemented in two ways. Employees can be externally motivated by the existence of supervision or punishment or externally motivated by the absence of supervision or punishment.
In the first scenario, supervision is tight, and rewards are positive for strong performance and negative for bad performance. In this method, authoritarian management pushes employees toward desired outcomes. Workplaces like this focus on shaping their employees into what they want them to be. The latter scenario represents a softer approach that reduces animosity and anxiety.
Theory Y is a bit more complex, as the manager is not entirely in control (and thus, feels less like a management style). However, properly understanding Theory Y concepts can help managers manage and hire better.
Theory Y assumes that employees enjoy a challenge, and strive to add value for the sake of self-worth and a desire to contribute to a community. The focal point here is on building strong, friendly relationships between management and employees, and removing most (if not all) authority from the arrangement. In such a situation, there is no push and no push back, simply unclouded business objectives.
This, in theory, sounds ideal. However, managers and employees who work in this framework do eventually encounter some challenges. Through a hands off management approach, it can be easy to lose alignment, as different individuals go in slightly different tactical directions. It can also result in enabling less motivated employees to take advantage of a relaxed work environment. There are various ways to address these concerns, though, such as building organizational processes to create alignment and through hiring carefully.
No model is perfect, and every circumstance requires some individual thought. Most often, experienced managers will find the need to use both at some point, though Theory Y usually leads to preferable outcomes and company culture. Some employees require different sources of motivations depending on where they are in their own personal development, not to mention some tasks seems to work out better when externally driven, while others work better when internally driven. Having comfort with both concepts is the ideal tool set for a motivational manager.
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“MacGregor's Theory X and Theory Y.”
Boundless, 20 Sep. 2016.
Retrieved 24 Feb. 2017 from