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Differences Between Theory X and Theory Y

Professor Douglas McGregor highlighted that there is a significant relationship between motivation and leadership among people. He summarized the findings of the Hawthorn experiment by introducing both theory X and theory Y. It is important to note that both theory X and theory Y are based on the argument that there are specific approaches to managing people based on their traits.

What is Theory X?

Theory X is formulated on the traditional approach to human behavior, which states that severe form of leadership must be used to persuade workers towards achieving the organizational goals. Some of the assumptions adopted in this theory include;

  • People dislike work and are geared towards searching reasons to avoid working
  • Workers avoid responsibilities and lack ambitions or goals.
  • Employees are lazy, and as such, they must be threatened or forced to work.

Differences Between Theory X and Theory Y

What is theory Y?

This is the modern approach to management, which emphasizes on a harmonious corporation between employees and control of the company. According to this theory, employees’ goals and those of the organization do not contradict one another. Theory Y has its fundamental concern on the satisfaction of employees. The following are some of the assumptions have in this theory.

  • Employees love to work, and they treat work as natural
  • People are innovative and will formulate creative decisions for their growth and growth of the company
  • People are self-controlled and self-directed on the way to achieving their set goals and objectives
  • Lastly, proper working conditions help people to learn and seek responsibilities.

Difference Between Theory X and Theory Y

  1. Management Style

Theory X recommends for an authoritative form of management that compels employees to achieve specific goals and objectives of the organization while theory Y recommends for a participative form of control because both company and employees’ goals are not in conflict hence the need to corporate.

  1. Prevalence

Theory X was highly predominant and adopted during the 20th century when autocratic leadership style was favored while theory Y and its democratic leadership style are increasingly embraced by the modern organizations.

  1. Employees Motivation

According to theory X, employees are mainly focused on financial rewards and would not work unless they are promised money and other forms of incentives whereas, employees in theory Y are motivated by non-financial rewards which include achieving organizational goals among others.

Additionally, theory X states that employees have a high affinity for psychological needs and other security needs which is in contrast to the assumption of theory Y which notes that employees have a high affinity for social needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization needs.

  1. Work/Responsibilities

Under theory X, employees dislike work and will avoid it while at the same time trying to avoid other responsibilities associated with work. On the other hand, theory Y has a perspective that employees are self-motivated and they like work while at the same time taking duties related to work.

  1. Creativity

MacGregor highlighted that theory X assumes that people have little capacity for creativity and innovation, should, therefore, be subjected to routine work only while under theory Y, MacGregor notes that people are innovative and creative in nature, and should be given a chance to express their views with respect to the development of the company.

  1. Supervision

Theory X assumes that workers lack self-motivation, which means that they should be continuously monitored and supervised so that they can produce optimally while theory Y implies that employees are self-motivated and self-controlled and as such, they should not be observed or supervised.

  1. Focus

According to theory X, power and authority should be centralized while at the same time having a hierarchy or chain of command upon which instructions flow whereas; theory Y focuses on decentralizing power and authority while at the same time encouraging greater participation in management decision-making process.

Table Showing Difference Between Theory X and Theory Y

Theory X Theory Y
Inherent dislike for work High affinity for work, i.e., work is natural
Lacks ambitions Highly ambitious
Avoids responsibility Accepts and seeks duties under favorable conditions
Not creative and innovative High-level creativity and innovations
Resist change Takes change
Focuses on psychological needs as a form of motivation Focuses on both lower and higher order needs like social needs and self-actualization as sources of motivations
High-level supervision required to achieve organizational goals Employees have self-control, self-direction, and therefore no external control.
Centralization of authority and decision making Decentralization of authority and decision making
Employees lack self-motivation Employees are self-motivated
Autocratic form of leadership and management Democratic style of leadership and management
Tight control Lenient control
Predominant in 20th century Modern style of leadership and management


  • McGregor’s theory of motivation, which is based on the Hawthorn experiment, offers a convenient framework for analyzing the relationship between motivation and leadership style.
  • One of the critical difference between theory Y and theory X is that employees in theory X are associated with adverse traits while employees under theory Y are associated with positive characteristics.
  • It is believed that managers who adopted theory X produce poor results while managers who take theory Y are likely to deliver better performance while at the same time offering employees a chance to grow and develop.
  • There is a significant relationship between McGregor theory XY and Maslow’s theory of motivation where employees at lower levels are in theory X while those high in the hierarchy are in theory Y.
  • However, many people have criticized this theory by highlighting that no person can belong to these extreme behaviors because human being possesses the qualities of both theory X and theory Y.
  • Additionally, it is clear from the theory that it appears that theory X is highly related to unskilled and uneducated employees who focus on attaining psychological needs while theory Y is related to professional employees who understand their roles and responsibilities in the management of the company.
  • Scholars propose that managers should use situational management style to generate maximum results because employees are likely to portray both negative and positive traits depending on each situation.

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  1. Two thing come to mind:

    1.) Is there a tie-in work Maslows Pyramid… Seems that Y people have their base needs covered and can start at Social Acceptance, while X people still need food, clothing and a roof over their heads.

    2.) What happens when a Y person is managed as an X person and vis versa…What are the common reactions.

  2. Am from Tanzania,and headings to get my first degree in university of Dodoma (UDOM),am taking bachelor of education in administration and management, and theory of x and y is fought here. This particularly notes have enable me to understand the subject very clear. This will motivate me to work hard too be forced in any company

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References :

[0]Arslan, Aykut, and Selva Staub. "Theory X and Theory Y Type Leadership Behavior and its Impact on Organizational Performance: Small Business Owners in the Şishane Lighting and Chandelier District." Social and Behavioral Sciences (2013).

[1]Mohamed, Ramesh Kumar Moona Haji, and Che Supian Mohamad. "The Relationship between Management Style Contract: A Literature Review." International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences 3.5 (2013).

[2]Russ, Travis L. "The relationship between Theory X/Y: assumptions and communication apprehension." Leadership & Organization Development Journal 34.3 (2013): pp.238-249, org/10.1108/01437731311326675.

[3]"Image Credit: http://odc2-scc-nnu.wikispaces.com/04+Org+Behavior+%26+Psych"

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