Although when we think of psychology in general we imagine the study of the psyche and human behavior in a clinical context, the truth is that this discipline works with multiple other fields; it is not limited to just one aspect of health. The mind is an object of study that remains active at all times, situations and contexts. One of the fields in which much research has also been carried out in occupational psychology, who is in charge of the psychology of work and organizations. In this area, elements such as leadership, authority, control standards and employee productivity were analyzed.
Many theories have emerged throughout history and writers who have worked in this field, including Douglas Murray McGregor, who developed two opposing theories that explain both how to exercise traditional leadership and a more humanistic one by which the author recommended: these are McGregor’s theory X and theory I.. Let’s see what they consist of.
McGregor’s Theories X and Y
From the industrial revolution and the emergence of the first factories, it became necessary to manage the way workers performed their tasks. It is well known the great amount of labor exploitation that existed then and that has continued over the centuries, with extensive control over what each employee did and offering few freedoms, as well as being limited performing “ one or more tasks indicated by management (addressing both what needs to be done and how).
Many revolts carried out to improve the conditions of the workers are also known, which would eventually lead to the creation of unions. Employee performance and productivity has always been something to keep in mind for managers, employing different strategies and the majority being the use of control, punishment and coercion to increase productivity, and money as a reward. But except among these people, basic needs were not met, productivity did not improve excessively.
The emergence of psychology as a science has made it possible to analyze this type of situation and different theories have been developed. Although the first theories envisioned the need for more control and viewed the worker as a lazy person, later other currents opposed to this belief appeared.
One of those authors, in this 20th century case, was Douglas McGregor. This author is based on Maslow’s theory of motivation and his hierarchy of human needs to propose that the lack of motivation and productivity of work is due to the fact that once the basic needs of the stimuli necessary to satisfy them are satisfied, they cease to be motivating. New needs were generated such as those of self-esteem and self-realization that most companies of the time did not wish to meet. This is why he proposes a new way of doing business facing the limits of the traditional: theory I, which contrasts with the traditional model or theory X, two mutually exclusive models.
The so-called X theory is an elaboration of McGregor from which he tries to explain the way of understanding the company and the worker who was in the majority until now.
This traditional view sees the worker as a passive being who must be forced to work, a lazy being who tends to work as little as possible and whose only motivation is to earn money. He is seen as uninformed, unable to manage change and conflict, and unambitious. Without careful monitoring, they would not be doing their jobs.
In this context, management must show leadership and exercise continuous control over employees in order to avoid their passivity. The behavior of the workers will be monitored and all responsibilities will be assumed, providing limited tasks.
Leadership is therefore exercised in an authoritarian manner and indicating what each should do and how.. The rules are strict and strong. Sanctions, coercion and punitive measures are put in place to keep employees at work. Money and compensation are used as a basic element of motivation.
In Theory X, McGregor makes explicit the traditional way of understanding work since the days of the Industrial Revolution. However, he believes that it was necessary to start from a different theory which had a different view of the worker and his role in the company. The result of this was Theory Y.
This theory indicates that the administration must be responsible for the organization of the company and its resources in order to achieve its objectives, but that employees are not passive but active unless they are pushed to do so. It indicates the value and importance of motivation and challenge, a value which is usually not put to use and which prevents workers from developing to their full potential. It is also not observed that each individual has their own goals which often have not been reflected with those of the company.
In this sense, it is the management of the company that must be organized in such a way that the work encourages this development and allows the worker to achieve not only objectives to which he does not feel attached, but also in the process of achieving the goals of the company can also achieve its own goals. It is also appreciated that the commitment is greater when recognition of their achievements is observed., And that the application of workers’ capabilities can lead to solutions to organizational problems that are unforeseen or for which management does not have a valid solution.
This theory, which the author defended against the traditional or X, is based mainly on the idea of promoting self-government and promoting self-control and worker autonomy, instead of seeing it as another. gear element. It is proposed to enrich the work by making the worker responsible for different tasks and encourage them to be active and participatory, able to make their own decisions and to feel engaged in their work. Training, information, negotiation of objectives and responsibilities and the creation of a climate of trust are essential for the proper functioning of the company.
It would therefore be a question of exercising a leadership that allows participation and trust, in which the work of the worker is valued, in which the work and personal responsibility are extended and enriched (for example by means of the delegation of responsibilities) and that focuses on achieving goals rather than authority and personal power.
Difficulties in implementing theory I
The same author, although proposing Theory I as a desirable and objective to be achieved, recognizes the existence of obstacles and the difficulty of generating change at a time when the functioning of most companies was governed by classical theory. For example, there is the fact that managers must change their way of thinking and reorganize their organizational structure and functioning, Something they tend to resist.
In addition, it also indicates that it may be difficult for the worker to make this change, as in many cases he has become accustomed to the work environment which tells him and demands a specific way of proceeding and d be controlled, as well as the fact that their needs are only met outside of work. The potential of workers has been limited by management’s expectation that they are passive entities who must be forced to work, losing much of the motivation for the job.
What does organizational psychology say today?
Overtime, the paradigm of work was changing and he ceased to see the worker as a purely passive element in a large number of domains. Today, we can see how a large majority of companies try to promote autonomy, and that proactivity has become one of the values most sought after in the workplace.
However, other later authors have indicated that Model I does not always give good results: the most optimal type of operation will depend on the type of task to be performed. Other models have been proposed which attempt to integrate aspects of the traditional (X) and humanist (I) view into so-called equilibrium theories.
- McGregor, DM (1960). The human side of the company. In Yarhood, DL (1986). Public Administration, Politics, and People: Selected Readings for Managers, Employees, and Citizens, New York: Longman Publishing Group; 134-144.
- Lussier, RN and Achua, CF (2008). Direction. Mexico: Cengage Learning.