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Social Loafing: What Is It, Causes, Examples & How To Reduce It
Working in a group is always a tricky thing. Not all group members work the same. Some team members perform very well, while other group members may simply churn out less productivity, which affects the outcome of the common goal the group is working on.
Social loafing is a concept that explains the social psychology of group members working together. It precisely deals with how some group members put in less effort, which, in turn, causes imbalances in the working culture of a group or team.
If you were ever part of a group assigned tasks, you most probably would have experienced social loafing, without ever knowing about it. This article explains the definition of social loafing and all the things you should know about it. So, please continue reading.
How To Define Social Loafing?
Social loafing theorizes that people often contribute less when working in group meetings. There are several reasons for that such as lack of motivation, absence of individual performance assessments, and large group size among others. Promoting individual responsibility, regular feedback, and creating smaller groups can help in tackling social loafing.
What Is Social Loafing?
Social loafing is nothing but a social psychology phenomenon that comprises reduced performance and low productivity. According to it, employees working in a group put in less effort than they would when they work as individual members. People engage in social loafing because they develop a laid-back attitude towards the goal and assigned responsibilities, which makes them invest less effort, hindering the overall progress of the entire group.
The concept of social loafing is also known as the Ringelmann Effect since the theory was first put forth by Max Ringelmann, a French engineer. He carried out a rope-pulling experiment, where he assigned the task of pulling a rope to several participants. They were asked to have group work of two, three, and eight respectively.
By the end of this experiment, Ringelmann found out that the group members feel less energy while working in a group setting. When the same experiment is carried out with participants working individually, the results come out much better.
Types Of Social Loafing
Social loafing almost always causes different types of hurdles for an organization to thrive. When social loafing occurs, the less productive nature of individual efforts not only impacts the growth of an organization but also creates a negative working culture in the team.
To reduce social loafing, first, you need to understand how it may occur and the different ways it could manifest in your team. So, here are the two most significant types of social loafing:
Free Rider Effect
Sometimes, when one team member or more exhibits a casual attitude toward the group projects, they tend to contribute less to achieving the overall group’s success. When the contributions from different members of the group vary by a larger degree, it creates an imbalance in the productivity of distributed groups.
Also, when this type of social loafing occurs, the void created by the less productive members has to be filled by an extra effort from the remaining teams. The group member who is responsible for this phenomenon is called a free rider.
This form of social loafing happens when even the well-performing group members start to underperform, thanks to the undermining efforts of free riders in the group. The substandard individual effort of a group member impacts the other members in the group, causing them to underperform too.
This is popularly known as the sucker effect. It occurs because the non-underperforming members subconsciously decide to stop the free riders from taking advantage of their effort. Usually, this type of social loafing causes a steep decline in the overall performance of a group or team, thus bringing down the efficiency of an institution they are working for.
Understanding Social Loafing Theories
If you are looking for ways to reduce social loafing, first, you would have to understand the theory behind it. It is important to know how a phenomenon occurs so that you can do something to reduce its effects. Anyhow, here are some studies and theories that discuss social loafing in detail.
According to the social compensation hypothesis, by Williams and Karau, groups work much harder collectively when they expect some of their co-workers to perform below par. However, a study conducted by Jackson and Harkins has proven otherwise.
This study has shown that individuals lower their effort when they expect their co-workers of subpar efforts, to maintain equity. This, in turn, shows that social loafing is more likely to happen when a group contains high-achievers, who, later down the road, slack off and let the other competent co-workers do most of the work.
Also, some instances occur where the high-achievers take on extra work when they see that some of their co-workers contribute poorly. This phenomenon is known as social compensation.
Several researchers including Harkins & Szymanski have demonstrated the social loafing theory using evaluation potential. According to this, social loafers are less likely to put in effort when they work in groups.
This happens because a group provides them cover to hide in plain sight since there is no proper evaluation method to score individual performances, in a collective task.
Karau and Williams made an excellent attempt to explain social loafing behavior with the help of arousal reduction theory. Simply put, according to this theory, social loafing can be attributed to the lowered drive during collective tasks. This theory argues that the influence and presence of a group reduce the drive and motivation to work harder.
Social Loafing Examples
Theories help you get a good grasp of social loafing. However, real-life examples allow you to gain a much better understanding since you can relate to them. These incidents happen all the time in pretty much everyone’s lives. Anyhow, without further ado, here are a few examples of social loafing:
When visiting a concert, have you ever seen the performer asking the audience to clap? Well, it is such a common sight, isn’t it? However, more often than not, when the crowd claps, the performer says “That wasn’t loud enough”. Well, it is because the audience put in less effort in the group performance, expecting others to clap louder. This is a classic example of social loafing.
In your childhood, you must have participated in group studies or projects. If you recall, there must be some students that used to avoid contributing, right? They do it because they expect the other students to carry forward the task to completion. Another solid example of this problem at play.
In restaurants, where there are not many customers, some members of the server team simply sit out and let the others do the job. They give in to their laziness since they know that their co-workers would take over and serve the customers, while they rest.
The Causes of Social Loafing
There are many factors that lead to social loafing. When you understand such factors, it becomes easier to tackle the issue at hand. Here are some of the prominent causes of this personality and social psychology problem:
Lack of Motivation
This is one of the main driving factors behind social loafing. When an individual is deprived of motivation for a specific task, that individual may put in less contribution, when compared to the tasks that they are motivated about.
Diffusion of Responsibility
The contributions from an individual go down when they feel less responsible and lack of establishing individual accountability. When the team member thinks that their contribution does not impact the end results, they tend to indulge in social loafing.
In smaller groups, people are motivated and interested in focusing on better contributions. At the same time, when the group size is larger, the individual effort may see a steep decline. So, group size is very crucial when trying to understand the causes behind this personality and experimental social psychology issue.
How To Reduce Social Loafing?
Social loafing causes a serious negative impact on the performance of a team or a company. Hence, tackling it is highly necessary for a firm to flourish. Here are a few things to do to get social facilitation and decrease social loafing.
- Assigning individual responsibilities and tasks
- Establishing strict and clear rules and standards
- Assessing group performances as well as individual performances
- Rewarding and highlighting the individual effort
- Creating and managing small groups
- Promoting individual accountability
- Encouraging a better working culture
- Regularly taking feedback from the group members
The performance of a group, team, or institution could take a toll when social loafing takes place. However, you can reduce it to a greater extent when you understand this personality and social psychology issue thoroughly. Also, once you are done with that, taking appropriate measures is highly essential.
Make sure that the groups or teams are sized rationally, with a limited number of people. It becomes easier to manage such smaller teams, while it also helps the members feel accountable and responsible towards the collective effort model goal.
+ 6 sources
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