Whether or not you’ve heard the term ‘social loafing’, you will have come across it at some point in your working life. It describes the concept that people may exert less effort when working as part of a group compared to when they are working on tasks alone. While teamworking is vital for many workplaces, social loafing, which is more evident within a team, can be detrimental. This is because when some parts of that team don’t put in as much effort as they should because they believe others will pick up the slack, productivity can be significantly reduced.
The phenomenon of social loafing was initially identified in 1913 when Max Ringelmann, a French agricultural engineer, was studying group performance. He realized that groups did not always meet their potential when that potential was defined as the sum of the maximum output of each individual acting alone. In one study, he made people pull on a rope attached to a pressure gauge and discovered that if two individuals separately could pull 100 units, together they would pull 186, rather than the 200 you would mathematically expect. Eight people working together only pulled 392 instead of their potential of 800. So, the larger the group that people were part of, the further below their potential they would perform.
Ringelmann believed this was caused by both coordination loss or the lack of simultaneous efforts and losing motivation due to trusting their neighbor to finish the task.
Why does social loafing happen?
Social loafing is more likely within big teams as the expectations are diffused amongst a larger number of people, along with expectations and responsibilities. Therefore, it takes some of the weight of individuals.
It is also attributed to low levels of motivation to encourage participation within the team. Some people may prefer to work alone or find it harder to connect with larger groups, and so may, without even realizing it, withdraw a little from the process.
The effect of team dynamics on social loafing must not be underestimated either. These impact day-to-day interactions with individuals and groups, and if a team has positive dynamics, inevitably, members will work better together and contribute more. A good leader will have a good knowledge of how people interact within groups and can learn to manage group tasks to achieve a better outcome if they understand how the people who work for them approach tasks within a larger team.
Also, when the responsibility for something falls on all the members of a team, then it is easy to understand that no one individual will feel entirely responsible for its outcome. This could lead to a decrease in effort, thus leaving others to fill the gap or lower the levels of commitment. A study published in The National Library of Medicine tested the hypothesis about social compensation, which claims that people work harder collectively than individually when they expect their colleagues to perform poorly on a particular task. Three experiments that were undertaken confirmed this. Additionally, one supported the idea that those taking part would not socially compensate for a co-worker performing poorly when working on something low in meaningfulness.
The factors that impact social loafing
As well as the impact working in large groups can have on an individual’s performance, there are other issues that need to be borne in mind. For example, a lack of clarity on a task someone needs to complete – if they do not know their specific role or the specific outcome of their contribution, that could lower performance. A lack of motivation would also impact, as would a lack of accountability, which may occur more often in larger groups.
Some effects of social loafing
Social loafing will have more of a negative effect on self-managed teams whose members either rotate or share leadership roles and are all responsible for meeting management goals. Corporate performance may be damaged or undermined if too many social loafers exist in one group. There could also be decreased productivity, as it wastes recourses allocated to teams to aid them in completing their tasks, such as investment in new technology or restructured responsibilities. Other negative consequences include reduced cohesion, poor morale, and lack of accountability.
Social loafing can also contribute to burnout and stress for team members who contribute more than they should by putting in extra hours or feeling more pressure to perform over long periods. There could also be an impact on turnover rates when those members of staff take a leave of absence or even leave to find a role or company where everyone is doing their fair share of the work.
As well as this, with remote working now more popular than ever, social loafing needs to be monitored closely with virtual teams, due to the lack of social control or connection for those who work from home. Because of the absence of the physical presence of other members of the teams, it can be challenging to keep virtual teams fully accountable.
Strategies to avoid social loafing
When you begin a project, creating clear, well-defined processes and ownership is important to provide clarity and structure and create alignment across a team. Once everyone understands what they are responsible for, there will be a level of accountability. Each team member will be aware of what is expected of them and that they will be held accountable for it. You can do this, for example, by assigning one single person to each task to avoid confusion.
Set out a way to track the responsibilities of each individual working on that project, such as the due date and any additional notes on that particular task. This is important so that group members can see what their colleagues are working on and how their own responsibilities contribute to the project as a whole. Using a work management tool allows managers to track the team’s progress in real-time, thus increasing accountability and lessening the possibility of social loafing.
When deciding which team member should do what, consider the strengths, performance, and communication skills of each individual. Think about who they may work best with, and then ensure they are all aware of their responsibilities. Specific delegation of tasks can make people feel relevant to the job at hand, and by clearly outlining what is needed, they will get a sense of how relevant their work is and how it will impact the rest of the team.
Another way of avoiding social loafing is to encourage a collective mindset within the group so each member feels they have a common goal, increasing cooperation, collaboration, and a positive attitude to each other’s work and responsibilities.
Motivating your employees and recognizing their achievements will lead to less social loafing.
Highlighting people’s achievements in e-mails or during meetings will acknowledge that you appreciate and value their contribution not only to the task at hand but to the organization as a whole. This may also inspire other employees to increase their efforts so they can also be publicly recognized.
Another strategy is to develop teams of smaller sizes so your employees are less likely to feel invisible. It is easier to hide in large groups than in smaller ones where an individual’s contribution can be seen. Or, if it is necessary to have a large group, they can be divided into smaller, more focused teams.
Managers should meet regularly with team members, holding them accountable for their work, motivating them, and showing them they are valued. This will all help built trust and rapport, creating a sense of personal investment and belonging that will contribute positively to the overall success of any team.
Engage with your staff and create opportunities for social gatherings, whether people are working remotely, in a hybrid setting, or the office. Finding things to talk about that are not just work-centered as a way to create a sense of belonging and equality will help people to feel engaged and foster a sense of camaraderie.
Creating clear expectations and standards right from the start is essential, with deadlines, expectations, and regular catch-ups to monitor progress. Suppose the standards are high and expectations are for everyone to work diligently and with dedication. In that case, it is likely that the group will perform at this standard and therefore be more effective.
The management and motivation of staff
Social loafing is just one of the issues that any leader will have to face within a working day. The central key to dealing with this and any other factors is to develop their skills as a manager.
Motivating staff is an important skill and any good manager needs to consider making the business environment a pleasant place, both physically and socially. Being respectful, honest, and supportive as a manager will go a long way in motivating and retaining employees.
The company could start an incentive program such as offering a quarterly bonus, a profit-sharing scheme, a private healthcare option, or support in paying for qualifications. If people know they will be rewarded for a job they do well, they will be more likely to stay and do a good job.
Giving your staff room to grow within the company is a crucial way to motivate, showing people they are trusted and respected for their work. Sharing positive feedback can have excellent results and give people a real sense of job satisfaction.
Another way to engage staff is to actually sit down and ask your team how to motivate them by finding out what they value and giving them a sense of ownership of new methods as you advance as a team.
Learning to be a manager
Being a good manager may be intuitive to some people, but no matter whether it is or isn’t, everyone needs to learn how to improve their skills to progress.
New managers must learn how to manage their team, and the context in which their team exists, so they are dealing with the relationships of their staff both within and outside the organization. Good leaders set positive examples and have to learn how to use their strengths to assist their teams in achieving their goals. They also get to know the individuals who work for them so that they can effectively support them in producing a high standard of work. A manager’s responsibilities can include delegation and time management. Still, a good leader will also focus on the growth and wellbeing of staff – so it is essential for those working under you that you learn how to do both.
Future managers can do a variety of courses to further their careers. The online leadership degrees at Central Christian College of Kansas will prepare students for taking on a new role that will enable them to climb the ladder in the leadership job of their choice. They will learn about management strategies and attendant leadership issues that answer questions such as what is social loafing and will be equipped with the business acumen and interpersonal skills required to meet the demands of the modern job market.
Previous graduates have obtained employment in various fields, including business analysis, training and development, and human resources as managers, supervisors, and other leadership roles within the private and public sectors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall employment in management occupations is expected to grow 8 percent by 2031, which is faster than the average for all occupations, resulting in about 883,900 new jobs over that period. About 1.1 million openings are expected each year are projected to come from growth and replacement needs within the job market.
Essential characteristics of a good manager
Being an effective manager is a combination of many things, but some are more obvious than others.
For example, leadership skills such as the ability to deal with staff efficiently and effectively are vital.
Strategic thinking enables them to see the big picture and the minor details that make a big difference.
Excellent communication skills are absolutely vital and encompass not only talking about job responsibilities and expectations but also listening to those who work for them and working with them to produce desired results.
Ensuring time is spent with individuals will help understand how everyone is placed and will also play its part in ensuring social loafing is kept at a minimum.
Gaining new knowledge, whether in work or by studying for more qualifications, will always be helpful to anyone to not only further their career but improve their performance. Effective leaders will know that investment in their learning will be a benefit not only to them but to the company as a whole.
Organizational and time management skills are vital for any manager, which can trickle down to the people who work for them. Setting a good example is a simple way to inspire and encourage.
Understanding the benefits of delegation will also enhance the skillset of any leader or manager. It will also help team members take on more responsibility and ownership of the task at hand.
Establishing a respectful and healthy environment at work within any team is crucial for managers. If respect is not shown for employees, tension and resentment can grow and can filter out within the team. Encouraging everyone to understand their roles and their importance in the work environment will make a good team excel.
Finally, identifying and communicating a company culture will boost employee engagement as they will understand what their goals are and the difference these will make to the business as a whole.