How would McGregor's X and Y be applied in today's diverse workforce?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Douglas McGregor, who was a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, wrote The Human Side of Enterprise in 1960. He described in it what became the widely known Theory X and Theory Y of management. In his formulation, these were not two distinct methods, but the end points of a broad and continuous spectrum of management assumptions and associated behaviors.

Theory X generally assumes that workers are not self-motivated and will only do work well and efficiently if closely supervised. This theory requires that managers create strict rules, rewards, and punishments. Theory Y, on the other hand, assumes that workers are self-motivated and will strive to do well for the intrinsic satisfaction of the job itself if management encourages them to be creative and take responsibility.

With today's diverse workforce, one should not use either one of these different theories exclusively as people from different cultural backgrounds respond well to different management styles. Instead, one should adopt elements of these different management styles to different groups of workers.

As was true in McGregor's time, different types of workers should be managed differently. Workers in fast food or manufacturing may need more standardized procedures and rules, while workers in the new knowledge economy respond better to Theory Y. Also, the entrepreneurial contract workers of the "gig economy," because they are contractors rather than employees, are by nature functioning within a Theory Y context.