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“Theory X” and “Theory Y” for Today’s Soon-to-be Managers

LongIsland.com

Once upon a time, Douglas McGregor described two sets of assumptions that he believed led to quite different kinds of leadership. (1) Theory X managers basically believed that: The average human being has an inherent ...

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Once upon a time, Douglas McGregor described two sets of assumptions that he believed led to quite different kinds of leadership. (1)

Theory X managers basically believed that:
The average human being has an inherent dislike of work and will avoid it if s/he can.
Because people dislike work, most people must be coerced, controlled, directed or threatened with punishment to get them to put forth adequate effort toward the achievement of organizational objectives.

Theory Y managers supposedly believed that:
The expenditure of physical and mental effort in work is as natural as play or rest
External control and the threat of punishment are not the only means for bringing about effort toward organizational objectives. People will exercise self-direction and self-control in the service of objectives to which s/he is committed.
Commitment to objectives is a function of the rewards associated with their achievement
The average human being learns, under proper conditions, not only to accept, but to seek responsibility.

McGregor's two managerial philosophies generally parallel the philosophies of many contemporary behavioral scientists and their ideas about differing leadership patterns and the consequences of these differing patterns.

As a Management Professor at a leading Long Island University, I had the opportunity to gain insight from a class of undergraduates on this topic. Each student was asked to answer "yes" or "no" to 14-point questionnaire entitled "What Are Your Managerial Assumptions?" as follows (2):

1. Are good pay and a secure job enough to satisfy most workers?
2. Should a manager help and coach subordinates in their work?
3. Do most people like real responsibility in their jobs?
4. Are most people afraid to learn new things in their jobs?
5. Should managers let subordinates control the quality of their own work?
6. Do most people dislike work?
7. Are most people creative?
8. Should a manager closely supervise and direct work of subordinates?
9. Do most people tend to resist change?
10. Do most people work only as hard as they have to?
11. Should workers be allowed to set their own job goals?
12. Are most people happiest off the job?
13. Do most workers really care about the organization that they work for?
14. Should a manager help subordinates advance and grow in their jobs?

I'm not a betting woman, but I would have bet $100 that most of the students would have answered the questions such that they fit into Douglas McGregor's Theory Y approach. I thought that Generation "Y-ers" were supposed to approach people in the workplace with a positive point of view.

Surprisingly, while more than half of the respondents selected the Theory Y approach (which aligns with modern day developments in the workplace), one-quarter of the responses focused on Theory X. The balance of the responses were tied between Y and X. Maybe students, our next line of managers, are not so pro employees after all. Time will tell.

(1) Adapted from The Personnel Management Process, by Wendell French, published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
(2) Adapted from Management, by John Schermerhorn, Jr., published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.