Social loafing stems from our biases. The first bias we have is that others don’t generally work as hard as we do and as a result of that bias we just become less productive. Secondly, most of us have the tendency to underestimate (or completely fail to recognize) the value of our input to reach the desired end result within group processes. Needless to say, there are also situations in which a simple lapse into pure laziness is to blame. The importance of the desire to perform well is in these cases overlooked due to the simple conviction that others within the group will compensate for their of production. Research shows that social loafing is present in almost every group process although often missed by management.
Several factors are directly linked to the level of social loafing that occurs in groups. For one, group size influences the average productivity per person. As a rule, the bigger the group, the lower productivity per person becomes. Secondly, culture influences social loafing thus productivity, group orientated cultures experience less social loafing than individualistic oriented cultures (most western cultures). Thirdly, (sorry men, it all comes back to our genes) men are more prone to exhibit social loafing than women are, due to their strong connection with their ego.
As we said earlier, team members are inclined to think that they work harder than others. If someone feels that others don't put in the same amount of time and energy, they will start decreasing their own efforts. This will then create a negative spiral in which productivity (and quality) decrease further until the subjective momentum of acceptable minimal effort has been reached in the eyes of a group member.
Team members that have common goals, often feel they don't have to work as hard to reach them. The set goal becomes an end in itself instead of an important step in a long journey which one would like to surpass.
Some team members might unconsciously feel that they can fade into nothingness within the groups` dynamics and use that as a way to avoid any consequences for their laps in terms of productivity. The other possibility is that a team member (often the more introverted, individualistic and-or insecure personality type) loses him or herself within the group and isn't seen or acknowledged by the other members in the team. People with these characteristics often lose their motivation and drive within group projects (not to mention that this can and will hurt their feeling of self-worth). It also results in the decrease in their efforts -thus productivity- but in terms of the end result; it represents a loss of valuable input which can strongly influence the end result of a project.
Social loafing often takes place in situations where there are no individual evaluations during or after group processes. By the lack of individual judgement, the focus on the `self` is shifted towards a group focus. This phenomenon results in less self-aware group members whom are also less involved with their own performance or contribution but are more focused on the end result.
When team members feel like there has not been (nor will be) a fair distribution of rewards, they will adjust their efforts accordingly.
A team can only function properly if all group members acknowledge that there are mutual relations. If team spirit isn't present, team members will act based upon their individual needs and stakes instead out of the importance of the group or organisation.
Social loafing is also seen on the work floor, here it is reflected in the social interactions between employees or lack thereof. While social interactions are very important to team spirit and morale, it could also result in a decreasing productivity if social interactions are not managed to a certain extent. An excess in terms of social interaction could soon lead to discontent amongst the most motivated employees and in result lead to a decreasing productivity. On the other hand, if there are no social interactions to speak of, employees will treat their relationship based upon market conditions, making them less loyal and flexible.
As a manager or CEO you will, as a rule, not be aware of the frequency in which social loafing takes place in the workplace. These types of behavior often take place when `Elvis has left the building` (less social control) and is easily misread. Interacting socially is important and fun, but best to be stimulated during breaks and after hours.
In order to manage social loafing in the workplace, we would advise a more group oriented culture. Within teams, managers can adjust their management style in order to achieve more of a group culture. The most important step is to begin forming a bond between you and your team members. This can be achieved for example by sharing lunch and coffee with employees coming from all levels. This will give employees the feeling that they matter, that they are acknowledged and it will close the gap between management and the workforce a little bit. It also offers the opportunity to learn about issues and what employees have on their minds, both creating opportunities to strengthen the company.
Another important element within management is the “walking around” principle. We would advise you to walk around on a daily basis and observe how employees interact with each other. But don't stop there....even greater results can be achieved by interacting. Don't confine yourself to your own team if you are acting on a higher level, it is always of the highest importance to keep yourself connected to operational processes. The TV show Undercover Boss is a great example why this is of utmost importance. If you are a senior manager within a big organisation and you have never seen an episode of this show before, we would advise you to watch one and observe the results of this principle. The show reflects beautifully which management information is lost if you do not make time to 'walk around'.
Never forget that your employees are people too, with their own fundamental needs to be recognized and their efforts acknowledged. We would like to think that we make a difference, that we matter and that our efforts are appreciated. You may not be able to offer bonuses or career advancement continuously, but it is often forgotten that the most powerful tool you have is you! You can coach them, challenge them by giving them complex tasks to solve or offer them other trajectories but most of all you can offer gratitude, self-worth, growth and a happy work environment which are all worth a million. Keep yourself in sinq with your (ex) team members career wishes and share ideals. This has never been a task reserved solemnly for HR! By keeping an overview of the needs and desires of your team, it will become easier to manage, attract and sustain talent.
As we mentioned earlier, social loafing is most common in group processes like project groups. These processes can be managed partly by following the rules as stated above but these are not the only tricks in the book when dealing with groups:
Social loafing stands for a decreased productivity per person during group processes which stem from biases. This habit has negative consequences when it comes to quality and productivity levels. While social interactions are to be desired and stimulated for they have a positive impact on overall moral and motivation, it should be managed. This can be achieved by shared leadership and being aware on how different team compositions can alter the end result of a project. The most important guidance we can give you however is to stay connected to your team because real value comes from the people around you and not from the brick structures you work within.
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