Back in 1960, a gentleman by the name of Douglas McGregor published a book known as “The Human Side of Enterprise.” In his book he shared some in-depth analysis of the way human beings behave in the workplace. He developed two distinct models: Theory X and Theory Y.
Theory X states that every one of us inherently dislikes working and will do whatever we can to avoid it. Because of this dislike of work, our superiors feel as though it’s important to control and direct us, sometimes even threating us, before we’ll get anything done. Managers who apply Theory X tend to be tough to deal with because their goals are to take away our options so that we have no choice but to get the job done.
Theory Y managers are a bit different. They understand that working takes a considerable amount of effort, but that work is a natural human attribute – we’re as likely to work as we are to sleep or eat. A Theory Y manager will work to promote a satisfying workplace in which individuals can work together to solve problems, use creative solutions, and seek out additional responsibilities without feeling forced.
Obviously, the attitudes attached with Theory X and Theory Y are completely different. One will promote a nurturing work environment and the other will promote an environment in which people really won’t want to work, but both are important to different workplace environments. A manager controlling a group of employees in a dangerous metal shop may need to stick to a strict Theory X management model, while a manager in an office place with a small sales staff may find the Theory Y style more appropriate.
As a manager you are responsible for delegating authority, making decisions, and controlling your workgroup. You can do so under each theory, but which one is more appropriate for your own workplace?
Originally published: 3 February, 2009
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