How can managers deal with social loafing?
Many people dread the thought of group projects, with the inevitability of having to work closely with certain personalities.
One person you will almost always find in a group project is the slacker.
The slacker is the person who sits back and lets the rest of the team members do all the work while they reap the same rewards.
You might not be aware that there is a term for this behaviour: social loafing.
What is social loafing?
Social loafing is when people reduce the amount of effort they put in on group projects compared to when they work alone.
It’s a very common occurrence when an individual’s contributions are not obvious. If they’re not going to receive praise for their own efforts, why exert themselves?
What do psychologists say about social loafing?
Psychologists have widely studied the phenomenon of social loafing. Maximilien Ringelmann conducted one of the first studies in his ‘rope-pulling experiment’.
In this study, Ringelmann looked into the effort people exerted when pulling a rope. He asked people to pull on the rope individually, to work in smaller groups of 7 and then work in a larger group of 14.
You won’t be surprised to hear that he found people contributed less when there were more people on the rope, and exerted the most effort when they were pulling it alone.
What are the main causes of social loafing?
If you have noticed social loafing within your team, there may be a few causes of this:
Unfair or biased delegation of tasks
One of the first causes is an unfair distribution of work. Some people may have a heavier task load, which causes them to put in more time and effort than others.
There may be a couple of high-achievers on a team who people expect to take on most of the work. You should always avoid this. Make sure you fairly divide the work among team members to avoid certain people having a heavier workload.
Similarly, managers who do not set clear expectations can cause social loafing. If team members are unclear about the expectations set upon them, they won’t be able to perform the work required to meet them and will be more likely to slack.
Loss of motivation
Unmotivated employees are more likely to slack in group projects since they are less likely to engage.
Lack of visibility
Another common reason for social loafing is if workers feel their contributions will not be seen. People want their work to be recognised. If their contributions are not obvious, they’re more likely to slack in group projects.
Lack of consequences or follow-through
If people know that their lack of contribution will have no consequences, there is nothing to encourage them to participate.
How can managers avoid social loafing?
It’s obvious that managers will want to minimise social loafing in their teams. There are a few things you can do as a manager or small business owner to reduce the phenomenon:
Meet with team members regularly
Regularly meeting with team members to discuss the progress of the project and talk about their contributions will encourage them to put in more effort.
Follow through on the consequences of the project
Make sure that people will be rewarded or penalised for their efforts or lack of on a project. When people know that their work efforts will have consequences, they’re more likely to be productive.
Connect the work to wider company goals
Make sure that group members are fully aware of how their work will impact the company. This way they will feel like they are really working towards a goal and that their efforts will be seen and benefited from.
Implement a task management system
The final way you can avoid social loafing is by implementing a task management system. This way, the project can be easily followed, and it’s easier to see individuals’ contributions.
It will encourage people to be more productive, as online collaboration tools increase productivity by 30%.
Social loafing is not something managers definitely want to avoid. Make sure you’re engaged with each project’s progress and try to implement some of the techniques we have discussed here.