Difference Between Theory X and Theory Y

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: July 27, 2023


Difference Between Theory X and Theory Y

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Every work an individual does has some motivation behind it. Motivation can either be positive or negative, Self or external, but it needs to be there. People work either to gain something or to prevent losing something. Motivation can be called a force or energy behind the working capacity of workers. From sports to corporates, different tactics are used to keep people motivated, so they can perform as an important asset.

In the 1950s, Douglas McGregor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sloan School of Management created two contrasting theories to explain the different kinds of workers based on how much motivation workers carry during work. These theories were Theory X and later expanded upon it in the 1960s. This Theory is useful for management to know the types of human resources they have and what methods they can use to keep them motivated to work well in the organization.

Theory X and Theory Y both are contrasting methods, one says that external rewards need to be given to make people work, whereas another says that people work from their own will and no external reward is necessary.

In this article, we will understand both the theories and their differences in more detail.

Theory X vs Theory Y

Theory X and Theory Y divide workers into two different categories. The main difference between workers falling in Theory X and Theory Y is that Theory X is considered a traditional model, and according to this Theory, workers need to be rewarded in order to gain motivation to keep working, or some other external force needs to be applied that can be both positive and negative, but according to Theory Y, which is considered as a modern model, workers will keep on working even after not getting any major reward because of their self-motivation and will to work, such Workers also keep workplace environment healthy.

Organizations can find out the type of workers they are working with and decide the work environment they need to create to make them work. Suppose the organization and management are focusing on Theory X kind of workers. In that case, Workers need to be watched and supervised constantly to make them do the work. In contrast, in Theory Y, the work of organization and management gets easy workers are not needed to be monitored constantly, the approached gets decentralized, and they can be left independent. They will perform their duty well, whether supervised or not.

Both theories are based on assumptions and have their advantages and disadvantages, which are discussed further.

Difference Between Theory X and Theory Y in Tabular Form

Parameters of ComparisonTheory XTheory Y
AssumptionsWorkers dislike work and avoid it to the extent possible.Workers view work as a source of satisfaction and willingness to do it.
Management StyleControl-oriented managers are needed to constantly supervise and control workersCollaborative managers should provide a supportive environment that allows Workers to use their skills and creativity to grow.
Motivationworkers are motivated by external rewards such as money and fear of punishment.Workers are motivated by a desire for self-actualization, and the satisfaction of doing meaningful work.
CommunicationHere communication is one-way. The managers give orders and Workers follow them.Here communication is two-way. The managers and Workers communicate openly and share ideas.
WorkWorkers dislike itDedicated towards work naturally.
AmbitionHere average workers mainly lack ambitionHere workers are Highly ambitious
ResponsibilityThey avoid taking responsibilityThey Accept and seek responsibilities.
Leadership StyleIt is autocraticIt is democratic
DirectionConstant direction is required for workingLittle or no such direction is needed
ControlManagement keeps tight controlManagement keeps lenient control
AuthorityIt is CentralizedIt is Decentralized
Self-motivationIt is absentIt is present
Focuses onPsychological needs and security needsSocial needs and self-actualization needs.

What is Theory X?

According to studies, Theory X is a traditional model of motivation and management. It takes into consideration the pessimistic or defeatist behaviour of a Worker working in an organization. It means that worker is considered less ambitious and inherently lazy. It is believed that if constant supervision is not done, then these Workers will produce only negative outcomes for the organization.

In order to manage a workplace with such Workers, an authoritarian management style is applied by the management. Workers are closely monitored, and constant direction is given. Strict rules and regulations are applied in the workplace to generate maximum productivity from workers.

The detailed points of the nature of workers in Theory X are listed below:

  • Here, workers are lazy or not willing to work; they look for reasons to avoid work to the extent possible.
  •  The workers are unambitious; they do not have a strong desire towards work.
  •  They do not like to take on extra responsibilities and need constant supervision.
  •  They do not want to be accountable.
  •  They are self-oriented and do not focus on the objectives of the organization.
  •  They resist change; they do not like any kind of change in the method of working and organizational structure. They are not willing to learn and experiment with new methods.
  •  They are more concerned about their personal security than the growth of the organization, which can be a barrier to the organization’s growth in the long term.
  •  According to Theory X, they are also not considered very clever and can easily be deceived, which can be dangerous for individuals and organizations both.
  •  They must be monitored, persuaded, rewarded, and punished if needed, or else they will remain idle.
  •  They need proper direction for work; they cannot be left independent to perform the task.

Limitations and Issues

Management needs to use methods of punishment or taking back the rewards, but it is considered a negative way of dealing with Workers and makes the environment of the organization negative. In such cases, workers lose their confidence and connection with management, which it is very difficult to achieve organizational excellence. There is a lack of trust, and that might also affect the internal reputation of the organization. Moreover, experts also say that this Theory is based on wrong assumptions like Workers are non-productive, or they are not intelligent. The desire to get an award cannot be linked with the lack of an intelligent mind.

What is Theory Y?

According to the study, Theory Y is a modern approach to motivation and management. It takes into consideration the optimistic behaviour of a Worker working in an organization. It means that the worker is considered dedicated towards the work and organization. In this case, workers can work and produce constant results without any supervision.

It uses the participative style of management and assumes that the workforce is self-directed and enjoys the work assigned to them in the accomplishment of organizational objectives. It is based on democratic principles wherein all persons are given an equal chance to develop their skills and work independently. In this Theory, Workers or human resources are considered the organization's most important asset. It is based on positive assumptions regarding the worker.

The detailed points of the nature of workers in Theory Y are listed below:

  • They usually like work and are dedicated towards the work willingly.
  •   They feel satisfied with the completion of work. Satisfaction is their motive to work.
  • They feel internally motivated and do not wait for external forces.
  •  The rewards in relation to the achievements lead to commitment towards objectives.
  •  They do not escape responsibility but rather look for more responsibilities to gain experience and take full responsibility for work.
  •  The capabilities and calibre of the Workers are underutilized, who possess unlimited potential.
  •  They work to better themselves without a direct reward in return.
  •  They have a better relationship with other colleagues and people at the higher post as they create a healthy environment in the workplace.
  •  They actively take part in decision-making and use their creative skills to give new ideas for the betterment of the organization.
  •  They grow individually, and along with them organization also grows to its true potential. 
  •  They accept the change in structure and learn new methods to get adapted to change.

Limitations and Issues

In this theory, organization and worker both grow, but it brings some limitations also. According to this theory, the worker can be left without supervision, and no punishment is given to them, but leniency can also be a problematic issue. In the long term, workers may give more emphasis on experiments with work and may also lack discipline, which can create an issue for the organization. Suppose management thinks of the application of this Theory. In that case, the limit of people who comes under this umbrella is also an issue, as only a few Workers are always motivated and dedicated towards the work.

Main Differences Between Theory X and Theory Y (In Points)

  • According to Theory X, average workers are motivated to satisfy their own needs and not to contribute to the fulfilment of the organization, but Theory Y says that average workers are motivated towards growth and development, and they contribute to the achieve the mission, vision, and goals of the company.
  •   Theory X assumes that a Worker dislikes work and will try to avoid work, whereas Theory Y says that the worker is dedicated towards the work willingly.
  •  According to Theory X, worker is unambitious, whereas Theory Y says that they are highly ambitious.
  •  According to Theory X, workers do not like taking responsibility and avoid it to the extent possible. On the other hand, Theory Y says that people accept and seek responsibility and take accountability.
  •  According to Theory X, the leadership style adopted by the management is autocratic, which means one person controls all the decisions and takes very little input from other members of the group. While Theory Y says that leadership adopts the democratic style of management, where all the members participate and contribute to decision-making.
  •  According to Theory X, it is assumed that workers require constant supervision and direction. But according to Theory Y, the workers do not need much supervision for the completion of the task.
  •  According to Theory X, the management keeps tight external control on the Workers, whereas in Theory Y, there is leniency in control.
  •  According to Theory X, there is complete centralization of authority in the organization. That is, the power lies in the hands of the top executives. Unlike Theory Y, which involves Workers’ participation in management and decision-making as it is decentralized.
  •  According to Theory X, the element of self-motivation is absent, but as per Theory Y, it is present within the workers.
  •  According to Theory X, Workers focus on psychological needs, physiological and security needs. Whereas in Theory Y, Workers look beyond these and focus on social needs and self-actualization needs.


In we look at the nature of the employee; for example, if management needs an employee to perform some extra duty and stay for more time than usual. In Theory X, management needs to pay more amount to the employee or warn him that he will get fired if the extra task is not performed on time. Whereas in Theory Y, employees will take this as an opportunity to grow and will show dedication towards the work, which is for the development of the organization.

The fundamental difference between the two theories is that in Theory X, management needs to hold the hand of the employee for the progress of the organization, whereas in Theory Y employee is self-sufficient to take the company to the heights. Organizations need to select the theory carefully to ensure productivity from the human resource, which will take them to great heights.

In the article above, we have discussed every aspect of Theory X and Theory Y, which will help one to understand and execute them well.


  • https://www.qualitygurus.com/the-differences-between-theory-x-theory-y/
  • https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/definition/theory-x-theory-y


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"Difference Between Theory X and Theory Y." Diffzy.com, 2024. Wed. 17 Apr. 2024. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-theory-x-and-theory-y>.

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