Preventing Social Loafing

Updated on December 13, 2018
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Jess works as a Sr. Compensation Analyst with over 8 years of HR experience. She holds a B.S. in Management and an M.S. in HR Development.

Today’s global business environment is highly competitive and strategy focused. Gaining competitive advantage is critical in outperforming competitors. Organizations often rely on the work of groups and teams for tasks that require multiple skillsets, judgement, and experiences (Ulke & Bilgic, 2011). Teamwork has the ability to give firms competitive advantage in many ways. Notably, when individuals work in teams, they sometimes produce an outcome greater than what is to be expected of the individual contributions. This is known as synergy (Sharma, Roychowdhury, & Verma, 2009). Also, it is widely known that companies are able to accelerate innovations to market through the use of cross-functional teams (Tabrizi, 2015). The importance of effective teams is universally recognized. As such, the most sought after characteristic in new employees to an organization is the ability to work effectively as a part of a team (Sharma, et. al, 2009; Deka & Kashyap, 2014).

Work groups have become crucial parts of the way business is done in organizations (Ulke & Bilgic, 2011). While the need for creating and building effective teams is well understood, in a study of 95 teams in 25 leading corporations, it was found that nearly 75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional (Tabrizi, 2015). Organizations are right to dedicate time and resources to team building, however, it is evident that some focus should be put on preventing and or reversing team dysfunction. This article will analyze one known cause of productivity loss and group dysfunction - social loafing.

What is Social Loafing?

Social loafing, also known as the Ringelmann Effect, is the tendency for individuals to reduce their inputs when working in groups (Clark & Baker, 2011). The concept was first discovered in 1913 by French engineer, Max Ringelmann while conducting his now famous rope pulling experiment. Ringelmann asked participants in the study to pull on a rope with as much might as they could individually. The participants were then placed in groups of either two, three, or eight and asked to repeat the task as a group. A gauge was used to measure the participants’ rope pulling strength. Contrary to Ringelmann’s hypothesis, it was found that participants’ efforts were less when they worked in a group than when they performed the task individually. It was also observed that as the number of participants in the group increased, the individuals in the group exerted themselves less. The conclusion of this research was that individuals perform below their potential when working with others (Mefoh & Nwanosike, 2012). Since Ringelmann’s initial discovery, much research has been done to confirm his findings (George, 1992; Kidwell & Bennett, 1993; etc.). A 1979 study of cheering, shouting, and clapping by individuals as compared to groups published by Latane, Williams and Harkins confirmed Ringelmann’s theory, and coined the word “social loafing” (Clark & Baker, 2011).

Tips to reduce & eliminate Social Loafing

  1. Behind intelligence, the conscientiousness personality type is the best predictor of performance. Additionally, employees who score high on conscientiousness and agreeableness are likely to go the extra mile and compensate for loafing team members in team situations and therefore “offset the negative consequences and prevent process loss caused by underperforming team members” (Schippers, 2014, p. 63). In practice, HR professionals should use personality test to hire individuals who score high in both conscientiousness and agreeableness - especially when the candidate is hired in a job that requires a high level of teamwork.
  2. Being able to identify individual contributions in group work decreases instances of social loafing (Clark & Baker, 2011). Practitioners should establish performance measurement systems that measure team performance and individual performance within the teams. High performers within the teams should be recognized and rewarded to aid in this effort.
  3. Organization should continue to recognize the need to foster group cohesiveness and keep group size as small as possible to reduce social loafing (Liden, et. al, 2004). Additionally, it has been concluded that quality communication leads to task cohesion, which has a negative impact on social loafing. Quality communication itself also has a negative impact on social loafing. As such, organizations should work vigorously to improve communication quality (through openness, accuracy of information, richness, etc.) in order to benefit from increased task cohesion and reduced social loafing (Lam, 2015).

Conclusion

In conclusion, individuals working in teams may consciously or unconsciously fall victim to social loafing tendencies (Clark & Baker, 2011). In today’s workplace, it is believed that success comes from teamwork (Deka & Kashyap, 2014). In order to attain organizational success, proper care should be given to the prevention or elimination of social loafing. Although there is no ideal mix of personality characteristics when designing teams (Bell, 2007), operating under the knowledge that agreeableness, conscientiousness and having collectivist values, when selecting individuals for teamwork will help to prevent social loafing and its negative impact on groups. Organizations are also able to prevent the phenomenon by establishing performance measurement systems that assess both team and individual performance within teams in order to enhance accountability (Clark & Baker, 2011; Earley, 1989; Teng & Luo, 2014). Lastly, quality communications decrease social loafing and has the dual effect of increasing task cohesion. Both the reduced social loafing and the enhanced task cohesion are important pieces in decreasing process loss, and efficiently attaining organizational goals.

References

Bell, S. T. (2007). Deep-level composition variables as predictors of team performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92(3), 595-615. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.92.3.595

Clark, J., & Baker, T. (2011). “It’s Not Fair!” Cultural Attitudes to Social Loafing in Ethnically Diverse Groups. Intercultural Communication Studies, XX(1), 124-140.

Deka, D. D., & Kashyap, B. (2014, January). Social loafing- A perturb in human resource management. Globsyn Management Journal, III (1&2), 88-95. Retrieved November 20, 2016.

Earley, P. C. (1989). Social loafing and collectivism: A comparison of the United States and the People's Republic of China. Administrative Science Quarterly, 34(4), 565-581.

George, J. M. (1992). Extrinsic And Intrinsic Origins Of Perceived Social Loafing In Organizations. Academy of Management Journal, 35(1), 191-202. doi:10.2307/256478

Kidwell, R. E., & Bennett, N. (1993). Employee Propensity To Withhold Effort: A Conceptual Model To Intersect Three Avenues Of Research. Academy of Management Review, 18(3), 429-456. doi:10.5465/amr.1993.9309035146

Lam, C. (2015). The Role of Communication and Cohesion in Reducing Social Loafing in Group Projects. Business and Professional Communication Quarterly, 78(4), 454-475. doi:10.1177/2329490615596417

Liden, R. C., Wayne, S. J., Jaworski, R. A., & Bennett, N. (2004). Social Loafing: A Field Investigation. Journal of Management, 30(2), 285-304. doi:10.1016/j.jm.2003.02.002

Mefoh, P. C., PhD, & Nwanosike, C. L. (2012). Effects of group size and expectancy of reward on social loafing. IFE PsychologIA, 20(1), 229-240.

Schippers, M. C. (2014). Social Loafing Tendencies and Team Performance: The Compensating Effect of Agreeableness and Conscientiousness. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 13(1), 62-81. doi:10.5465/amle.2012.0191

Sharma, V., Roychowdhury, I., & Verma, M. (2009, March). Why Do Willfully Designed Teams Fail? Factors Leading to Team Dysfunction. ICFAI Journal of Soft Skills, 3(1), 45-55.

Tabrizi, B. (2015, June 23). 75% of Cross-Functional Teams Are Dysfunctional. Harvard Business Review Digital Articles, 2-4. Retrieved from Business Source Premier.

Teng, C., & Luo, Y. (2014). Effects of Perceived Social Loafing, Social Interdependence, and Group Affective Tone on Students’ Group Learning Performance. The Asia-Pacific Education Researcher, 24(1), 259-269. doi:10.1007/s40299-014-0177-2

Ülke, H. E., & Bilgiç, R. (2011, September). Investigating the role of the big five on the social loafing of information technology workers. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 19(3), 301-312. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2389.2011.00559.x

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2018 Jess Newton

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