Social loafing (A complete review)

What is social loafing?

Social loafing is the concept that an individual will likely apply less effort at work if they’re in a group or team as opposed to if they are working on their own.

Working in teams or groups is often viewed as the best way to achieve success on a particular project.

A group setting often brings together the strengths and weaknesses of multiple team members, which allow a project to be ultimately successful given the different professional skill sets.

Yet this group setting can also cause some people to lose their motivation, not pull their own weight and potentially have a negative impact on the group’s overall performance.

In this article, we’ll discuss some of the situations in which social loafing is most prevalent, how to recognize when someone is social loafing and what you can do to prevent yourself from social loafing. 

Even if one doesn’t experience self-loafing in a group, they might come across the concept of what we call Groupthink.

Both self-loafing and Groupthink portray the effects a group has on an individual’s actions and thoughts.

Why is Social Loafing Important?

Social loafing is important to recognize in any workplace because jobs can be completed more effectively in a team setting, and it’s important to ensure that everyone is pulling their weight.

A person’s individual motivation can also have a significant impact on a team’s productivity and their propensity to practice social loafing in the workplace.

Someone who is not very interested in the task at hand is a lot less likely to contribute fully to the team they’re on and are likely to engage in social loafing.

Another cause of social loafing can be task distribution, which isn’t always even across teams and projects. 

What Are Some Examples of Social Loafing?

While there are numerous examples of social loafing, we’re going to look at two that will help you understand why it’s so important: 

Example 1

In 1913, one of the earliest studies of social loafing was by Max Ring Lemann, who was a French agriculture engineer.

He conducted a rope pulling trial by passing a rope between people to pull it alone as opposed to in groups.

The study found that people who pulled the rope in a group used less energy than the person who pulled at the rope on their own.

The outcome was that persons in groups use less energy to pull the rope as compared to those who were doing this alone.

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Example 2

Imagine that your teacher assigned a project to a group of students.

If you were working on the project on your own, you would’ve likely broken down the project into a few stages that allowed you to start the project right away and keep to a tight schedule.

However, if you were working as 1 of 6 members of a group, you’re more likely to practice social loafing and put forth less effort because of the size of your group.

Instead of volunteering to take on some of the more difficult tasks in your group project, you’re more likely to think that someone else will shoulder the burden of the work assigned to your team.

In other scenarios, you might be left with the entirety of a project on your own because others are practicing social loafing and assuming that you will work on the majority of the tasks, leaving you under an immense amount of pressure. 

How Does Social Loafing Have an Impact on Me?

If you have ever worked on a team that is striving to achieve a goal, then it’s likely you’ve either experienced social loafing or you’ve unknowingly practiced it first-hand.

You may have also worked on a team that has had to overcompensate for the lack of effort put forth by a team member.

There are several ways in which social loafing manifests itself, but below we will focus on a few key areas in which social loafing can have consequences for you and for the team that you’re working with on a project; 

1.     Motivation

Motivation can play an important role in determining whether or not social loafing occurs.

People who aren’t as interested in your project are more likely to social loaf, thereby placing a lot of stress on you and your team.

2.   Distribution of Responsibilities  

Social loafing can also arise due to an uneven distribution of responsibilities.

IN groups, people are less aware of their individual responsibilities as opposed to when they are working alone.

Further, people who work in groups may feel that their input on the project won’t really have an affect on the outcome, which also makes them more likely to engage in social loafing.

3.     Bystander effect

The bystander effect is also highly influential in the social loafing process.

This means that a person is a lot less likely to help someone else who needs it if other people are near that person.

Some people believe that since the work of the group is all that matters and someone else will take on the work if you slack off, then it’s likely that you will not put forth the same amount of effort because you can rely on someone else to carry your workload.

4.     Group size 

Group size also has an impact on how hard people work in that setting. In smaller groups, individuals are more likely to put forth a great amount of effort because they are being watched closely.

However, in a larger group setting, there are more people that can take on responsibilities, which ultimately means that there is a lot less effort going put forth than there would be in a smaller setting. 

5.     Expectations

Expectations are a factor of paramount importance when observing social loafing in practice.

If you think that by not putting in effort will cause you and your team to perform poorly, then you are likely to work harder to ensure that you achieve a good result.

However, if you’re in a group where specific people control what’s going on in that setting, then you will probably let those individuals continue to take over and complete the vast majority of the work.

While you might offer some support, it’s highly likely that you are not going to take over and put forth the effort that your other group members are for this project. 

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How Do We Prevent Social Loafing?

Even though social loafing is seen frequently in group settings, there are strategies we can implement in order to ensure that social loafing occurs less frequently.

These solutions will not only help group performance but it will also help set more realistic and helpful expectations.

Here we discuss a few ways that you can work with your team to prevent social loafing from happening in the first place, thereby ensuring that each team member is accountable for their work output. 

  • Groups should start at the smallest size possible and should be created with individual roles and responsibilities. 
  • Groups should evenly divide tasks, celebrate individual and shared growth and celebrate the success of all of its members. 
  • Each person will have to pull their own weight. This can be executed by splitting project tasks into “buckets” before dividing them among team members. 
  • Engage your team members! Make sure that people are participating in tasks, building trust and contributing to the team’s overall goal. Building team morale will help your team become more successful when working on a project.
  • If your goal is not exclusively team-focused but can also bring benefits to an individual, then it’s important to highlight what project success will look like for individual team members. People generally respond well to positive reinforcement and encouragement.  
  • Establish clear work instructions, task descriptions and responsibilities so you can ultimately prevent social loafing from seeping into your working group. 

FAQs on Social Loafing:

Does social loafing only happen at work?

While social loafing is very common in the workplace, it’s not the only setting where social loafing takes place.

For example, social loafing can take place in a classroom setting where multiple students are working on a group project.

Additionally, social loafing can take place in situations like the election.

Even though most Americans can agree upon the importance of voting, only about 57% of Americans who were eligible to vote did so in the 2008 presidential election.

Several people feel like their vote doesn’t count or matter in a country as large as the US, which drives many people not to vote in the first place.

This is just one example of where social loafing takes place outside of a group project setting. 


Can I make someone stop social loafing?

While it would be nice to be able to get someone to change their behavior, the only person whose behavior we can control when it comes to social loafing is our own.

Being aware of situations where you’re more likely to practice social loafing is an important way to recognize what you can do to stop yourself from losing motivation.

If someone is not pulling their weight in a group project, you can certainly speak to them privately about needing to contribute more toward the team.

However, it is ultimately up to that person [and that person alone] to make any behavioral changes to stop themselves from social loafing. 

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Want to learn more about social loafing? Try these recommended readings!

  • Social Loafing: The Career Choice of Workplace Slackers 
  • Individual Motivation within Groups: Social Loafing and Motivation Gains in Work, Academic, and Sports Teams
  • Social Loafing in Sport: From Theory to Practice

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References:

  • Darley, J. M. & Latané, B. (1969). Bystander “Apathy.” American Scientist, 57, 244-268.
  • Latané, B. and Darley, J. M. (1970) The Unresponsive Bystander: Why Doesn’t He Help? Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  • Manning, R., Levine, M. & Collins, A. (2007). The Kitty Genovese unlawful killing and the Social Psychology of Helping: The Parable of the 38 Witnesses. American Psychologist, 2007;62(6): 555-562.
  • Soloman, L.Z, Solomon, H., & Stone, R. (1978). Helping as a Function of Number of Bystanders and Ambiguity of Emergency. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 4, 318-321.
  • (1824-1956) – Lyn Ragsdale, Vital Statistics on the Presidency (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1998), 132-38.
  • (1960-2012) – Compiled by Gerhard Peters from data obtained from the Federal Election Commission.

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