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How to manage social loafing

How to manage social loafing

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How to manage social loafing

Whenever you deal with group processes in the workplace, social loafing comes to play. The term social loafing is used to refer to our tendency to become less productive within a group in comparison to our individual activities. It means that social loafing will always lead to a decrease in productivity and is therefore an important phenomenon to know, to recognize and to tackle as a manager. 

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.

Possible causes of social loafing

Fair distribution of workload

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. 

Submaximal goals

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.

The diminishing relation between input and output

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.  

Lack of evaluation

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.

Unequal rewards

When team members feel like there has not been (nor will be) a fair distribution of rewards, they will adjust their efforts accordingly. 

Lack of team spirit

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.

How to manage social loafing in the workplace

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.

How to manage social loafing in group processes

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:

  • Assign everyone with their own responsibilities
    To prevent social loafing, it could render beneficial to give every team member some work in advance which would influence the end result of the project. This will create a more productive dynamic. It is also productive to create smaller teams during certain sprints. Always built towards shared leadership, for it will have a very positive impact on collaborations within the group, its productivity and the overall end result.
  • Create an evaluation system
    To strengthen the results of the group productivity even further, an evaluation system is highly advisable during projects. The highest results are acquired when reciprocal evaluations are used and when team members are informed in advance on the way their individual contributions and group results will be evaluated.
  • Don’t let politics get in the way of efficiency 
    Make sure that the workload per person is calculated and group size is determined accordingly. Offer the possibility to address excessive workloads in case of unforeseen changes. Group members should always feel free to address issues. Do not put more people on a task than necessary, the smaller the group, the smaller changes are social loafing will occur. 
  • Manage discussions
    Make sure that everyone has the possibility to be heard. Ask opinions of those who are more reserved within the group. By giving people a voice, in time they will feel more connected to the project and therefore be more motivated intrinsically.
  • Avoid the pink elephant in the room
    Nothing is more dangerous than having a pink elephant in the room. The pink elephant stands for something almost every team member feels or thinks but is afraid to say because their superior is in the room or because they are afraid to be judged based upon their opinion. Group members (and team members for that matter) should always feel free to address everything from a professional perspective, even doubts or negative emotions.
  • Create a framework
    Never start a project or team without having basic rules and goals in place. Everyone has a need for clarity. What would be the consequence of social loafing? How can one address it? As a leader: walk your talk afterwards.
  • Construct a team with diverse talents and characters 
    The best results are achieved by teams that have team members that complement one another. Which qualities and strengths do you need to create a heterogeneous team. Secondly, it is always clever to use key-persons out of different layers within the company.
  • Create engagement
    Team members need to feel connected to the set objectives. Offer them genuine attention, reward them and acknowledge their efforts. At the same time, make sure they have the time to build mutual relations that are based upon reciprocity. These relations can be stimulated by sharing ideals with each other. The stronger the team spirit, the higher productivity becomes (if you treat them as you should). Rap up meetings on a positive note and always explain how these positive elements influence the tasks that lay ahead.
  • Set clear objectives
    Make sure everyone knows what the spot on the horizon is: what is the end goal and which phases are there? Create sub goals to enhance the feeling of accessibility. Never forget to explain why certain tasks are of such importance and what happens if deadlines are not met. Make sure all objectives are comprehensible and tangible.
  • The power of repetition
    Repeat expectations, desires, goals and compliments during the whole process (do make sure you always give sincere compliments (and different ones ;) )

Come again?

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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