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A historical view of Douglas McGregor's Theory Y

Charles M. Carson (School of Business, Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama, USA)

Management Decision

ISSN: 0025-1747

Article publication date: 1 March 2005




The purpose of this paper is to trace Douglas McGregor's Theory Y thinking back from pre‐industrial revolution philosophers up through McGregor and his contemporaries and to explore how Theory Y evolved after its introduction.


This is a review article relying on literature reviews and synthesizing concepts and ideas from related sources.


This article examines the emergence of Theory Y as one of the hallmark relationship management principles of the last half of the 20th century. McGregor stands in a unique place in management history. He has one foot in the early human relations movement, and another foot in the movement of scholars who advocated a heightened awareness of management's responsibility for the human side of employer‐employee relations. McGregor serves as a true facilitator for growth and advancement in the field of management, in general, and human relations, in particular.


This paper holds value to management scholars and practitioners in its utility as a means of tracing the evolution of one of the most important management concepts of the last half of the 20th century. While it may lack in originality (a flaw in many historical reviews) it certainly addresses important issues and provides a path for understanding the development of a key management concept (Theory Y).



Carson, C.M. (2005), "A historical view of Douglas McGregor's Theory Y", Management Decision, Vol. 43 No. 3, pp. 450-460.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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