More than half a century ago, Douglas McGregor, then a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, developed two theories related to human work motivation and management.
In 2020, those theories—Theory X and Theory Y—are as important for companies to understand as they ever have been. That’s because, during a crisis like the one we’re in now with COVID-19, there are all kinds of important decisions to make related to people.
For example, executives have to choose how they reintegrate their workers into the workplace, how they keep those workers safe and healthy, and how they evolve the workplace over time.
Those choices become easier if you understand Theory X and Theory Y, according to the first part of Chapter 2 in How to Safely Reopen the Workplace, Domo’s comprehensive guide to reactivating your workforce.
Theory X is a management approach that assumes workers are generally lazy and not self-motivated to work, need to be closely monitored by management if they’re to succeed, and require incentive structures tied to their output to optimize productivity.
Theory Y, by contrast, is a more participative, invitational approach. It suggests treating workers with compassion, and incorporating them into a broader sense of organizational ethos and shared commitment.
Evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that approaches in line with Theory Y produce better results. And yet, in the sustained heat of a crisis, it can be all too easy for those in charge to desire more control, and to pursue it with less regard to the humanity and motivations of those they’re directing.
We already see this playing out during the pandemic. Companies have increased their monitoring of workers forced to work from home as if these workers would lose their interest as soon as they were free of the confines of the workplace.
Brian Kropp, Chief of Research for Gartner’s HR practice group, expects 80% of companies to use some form of remote monitoring technology by the end of 2020—up from the 50% who use it with all remote workers now. This trend is happening even though some of the best research on remote learning shows that remote workers enjoy a productivity boon of roughly 4%.
The problem, of course, is that managers do need to monitor. Temperature scanning, contact tracing, facilities management—they all depend fundamentally on the capacity to surveil.
But if employers pursue policies to preserve their control or deploy solutions that maintain fences between employees and data-driven decision-making, they will risk perceptions that reopening the workplace looks a lot more like the old Theory X than the newer, more productive Theory Y.
Could the consequences of that perception be disastrous for companies competing in this new, post-COVID world? And could it compromise the ability to collect the data needed?
Those are topics the next section of the guide will explore. To read it, click here. To participate in thoughtful discussions on the future of work, including best practices for reopening and strategies to keep employees healthy and safe in a post-COVID world, join one of Domo’s upcoming virtual workshops.
BLOGGER’S NOTE: Portions of this post were taken directly from the guide, which was written by Ken Rufo, a Seattle-area PhD-holder and freelancer whose work has appeared in a variety of academic journals.