The currently leading belief of humanism holds that all individuals are different and that each of them matters. However, for the practical sake, the similarities that humans share matter much more than the differences. Particularly in management, theories X and Y offer two distinct overviews of human traits as they relate to work. Theory X is made up three assumptions; People dislike work, People need to be directed and controlled and people want security, not responsibility. Theory Y on the other hand states that people like work, people are self-motivated and people accept and seek responsibility (Northouse, 2017). Everyone may fit the assumptions of both theories depending on the work environment and the nature of work itself.
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This is why the management practices must be individually tailored to each particular context. While it is generally better to incentivize people to follow Theory Y, Theory X is still unavoidable to use in certain contexts and for certain people. In his TED talk, Jason Fried (2010) states that the most important distractions in the workplace are M&M’s or managers and meetings. He suggests that they are much worse than the things commonly perceived as distractions like social media, YouTube, etc. This is because the last distractions are voluntary, a person may choose when to get distracted. The first, at the same time, are involuntary, they happen regardless of the will of an individual – a worker cannot choose to ignore the boss or a manager approaching them. In this aspect, Fried appears to be a Theory Y manager. His primary suggestion, to let the workers have extended stretches of uninterrupted time is effective only if the workers actually work this entire time and not surf the internet to start working ten minutes before the end of this stretch.
Hence, he assumes that the workers are responsible and will engage in productive work when left alone. This is why his management style definitely conforms to the Theory Y. And his analysis of distractions and possible solutions, in the framework of Theory Y is compelling. Fried (2010) suggests that managers should leave the workers alone with their work and not interrupt them – this will guarantee high productivity. However, such a suggestion only works within the framework of Theory Y. While Fried (2010) makes fun of the bans of social media in the workplace and managers who constantly patrol their offices like hounds, in some cases such policy is necessary. In reality, voluntary distractions are for some degree involuntary in the sense that they draw attention and thoughts towards them. Consider the two situations regarding reading as an example. Reading can be engaging and interesting, but may also be a very boring activity, just like work. Consider one’s desire and productivity in the two contexts – when one’s friends play video games next to the reader, and when the reader is in the plane. Obviously, reading any book will be more productive and engaging, when one is in the plane. This happens because there is nothing interesting to do in the plane except for reading, while in the first context – there are many other interesting things to do. The same applies to work, the voluntary distractions, as Fried (2010) calls them, are completely voluntary perhaps to only a handful of people in the world. Professionals learn to eliminate all distractions, turn off the phone, social media, and the Internet if necessary, not ignore them.
Everyone knows that a phone lying on the table with Youtube opened will be a much greater distraction than the same phone lying somewhere beyond reach. This is why banning social media is likely to be productive for many companies. As mentioned above, recommendations suggested by Fried (2010) have only the Theory Y in mind, while Theory X should also be considered for many situations. The new tech giants and successful companies of the past have shown that breakthroughs are born out of unrestricted creativity and passionate dedicated work, not out of managers standing over one’s head and controlling whether one works every minute. This provided a great support for the Theory Y. Although this is a great ideal to strive for, it is not easily realizable in many situations. Particularly, it requires a worker to be genuinely passionate about the work itself or the goal. In creative companies or high-tech startups hiring top specialists to do innovation, it is possible to have the vast majority of employees with such motivation. However, if we consider large companies featuring monotonous work, where workers are cogs in the huge machine rather than individuals, it becomes very problematic to align the desires of all the workers and of the top management, so that the job would is done and the workers are happy.
Moreover, many people have strong beliefs that work is the necessary evil because it is the only type of work they have experienced throughout their lives. It will be much more problematic for a Theory Y manager to find the right approach to such an individual. This is why, Fried’s (2010) recommendations are unlikely to work for workers doing monotonous and boring work, consider fast food restaurants for example. The perfect management style that would eliminate all the distractions would use both theories. Although it would strive to use only Theory Y, it will also account for what Theory X suggests, which may be blocking social media or controlling employees from time to time. The more creative and innovational is the job, the more the manager will stick with the Theory Y and the more monotonous the work is the more Theory X must be used. Ultimately, management style would also differ based on the personalities of each particular worker varying the degree of control and length of uninterrupted time stretches, however, it would prefer the Theory Y and methods suggested by Fried. At the same time, all voluntary distractions should be eliminated, unless they are valuable for the work process.
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