When your boss asks your team to complete a major project within a month, you and everyone else get to work and do what is necessary to finish everything on time. Although this scenario is ideal, it doesn’t always happen in real life.
Sometimes, there’s one member of the team who will take the back seat and let the others take charge of the project. This has the unfortunate effect of undermining team effort and pulling down productivity like a boat anchor.
If you observe this from your team, you’re witnessing a psychological phenomenon called social loafing.
What is Social Loafing?
Social loafing refers to the propensity of a person to contribute less effort when they’re part of a team. This individual develops a laid-back attitude toward the assigned tasks by turning in the least amount of work and depending more on the other members of the team.
The Two Forms of Social Loafing
This psychological phenomenon comes in two forms. The first is the sucker effect. This happens when a team member pitches in and does the work of a slacking employee without getting any additional recognition.
When this happens, the responsible team member doing most of the work may get demotivated or experience burnout from their job. What’s worse, the other active members who sense exploitation from social loafers may disengage themselves from their tasks or the main project. Overall, this hampers productivity and results in poor work quality.
The second form is the free-rider effect. This occurs when one or two members carry a casual attitude toward the goals of the team. They believe that their contribution to the project is neither significant nor compulsory. Given that one team member isn’t doing their job, the other group members will now have to complete the given project.
Causes of Social Loafing
Why does this aggravating malingering happen in a team?
Here are some of the probable causes of social loafing:
Lack of Team Spirit
A team can only operate effectively if every member of the group acknowledges that there are mutual relations. If the team spirit isn’t there, group members will act based upon the individual stakes and needs instead of the importance of the team or organization.
Lack of Motivation
Motivation plays a crucial part in determining if social loafing will take place in a group. Demotivated individuals are more likely to coast through a project when they’re a part of a team.
When members of a team believe that the distribution of rewards won’t be fair, they’ll adjust their efforts accordingly. What’s worse, the employees may decide to leave the company because of unfair treatment.
Lack of Evaluation
You may see employees loafing around in an organization that has no individual assessments during or after a group process or project. This phenomenon leads to less self-aware team members who zero in on the end result and pay less attention to their individual contribution or performance.
Large Group Size
Sometimes, the team or group consists of more people than required. “Surplus members” tend to become idle and waste precious time in social loafing.
Complex or Easily Achievable Goals
The goal of the project itself can sometimes cause social loafing. If the goal set by the boss or the management is robust or impossible to reach, you can expect some team members to give up or put in less effort on the job.
On the other hand, employees may feel demotivated if the goal set does not pose any challenge to employees or fails to make good use of their technical and practical skills.
Consequences of Social Loafing
Social loafing produces an adverse effect on group productivity and quality. This can undermine the performance of the business or organization.
Some of the consequences that can occur when you leave social loafers unchecked are the following:
Affects Decision Making
Free-riders are unlikely to pitch in their ideas and contribute to the improvement of the project. The lack of proper input from all the members of the group diminishes the team’s decision-making efficiency.
Demotivates Hardworking Members of the Group
You can expect the hardworking employees to become demoralized or demotivated. After all, they’re working their butts off while the other non-active members are skating through their responsibilities. Over time, these diligent individuals will slack off from their assigned tasks and consider their job in the company as a burden.
The escaping and sometimes cavalier attitude of social loafers spread negativity in the entire team. Social loafing, when not addressed, can bring down group productivity and performance.
Wastes Company Resources
Free-riders can drain the company’s coffers. Their lack of contribution can slow down work output. This means that the business either loses money through lost revenues or regular expenses.
Hinders Company Growth
The presence of social loafers can prevent the growth of a business. They can delay projects, which can irritate clients and harm the company’s track record. Over time, fewer people will do business with the organization. Fewer clients translate to less money coming in and reduced opportunities for company expansion.
How to Minimize Social Loafing in the Office
If you’re a team leader, you can take steps to stop slackers from stealing your thunder.
Here are a few essential strategies you could follow to reduce social loafing in the workplace and increase accountability:
Set SMART Goals
When you’re creating team goals, you want to make sure that they follow the SMART format. This consists of the following:
- Specific – Your goal should be clear, properly defined and unambiguous.
- Measurable – The goal must come with specific criteria to gauge the progress of the team.
- Attainable – Your team should be able to accomplish a goal within a reasonable timeframe.
- Relevant – The goal should align with your company’s values and long-term objectives.
- Timely – You need to set an ambitious and realistic end date for task prioritization and motivation.
Once you’ve finished making these goals, disseminate them to all members of the team. Make sure to explain the importance of the client project along with what happens when someone fails to meet the deadline.
Keep the Team Size Small
The potential for social loafing is high when the population of your group is beyond five members. If possible, break the team into sub-groups that will not exceed three members per group. Then, assign a specific theme to each sub-group, which you can break down by task between the individual members. The goal of this strategy is to discourage work assignments from becoming fungible.
Distribute the Workload Fairly
Make sure that you calculate and assign the workload per person fairly. If there are unforeseen changes to the project, offer the possibility to address excessive workloads. Also, refrain from putting more people on a task than necessary.
Give People a Voice
Make sure that you give each team member the opportunity to speak. If you have individuals who are reserved or introverted, proactively ask for their opinions or ideas. By giving everyone a voice, they’ll feel more connected to the project and have the intrinsic motivation to complete their tasks.
Address the Pink Elephant in the Room
The term “pink elephant” refers to something nearly every group member thinks or feels but is afraid or hesitant to bring up to the table for discussion. These people are likely afraid of receiving criticism or negative judgment based on their opinion.
As a team leader, you should allow your direct reports to address everything from a professional perspective. This includes negative emotions or doubts about a particular issue, task or team member.
Come up with an Assessment System
Although the completion of a project is a team effort, you should let your members know that you will evaluate them individually based on their contributions. Don’t hesitate to help people who are struggling with their tasks — and call out those who aren’t pulling their weight.
Team members should feel connected with the goals you’ve laid out for them. Give them genuine attention and take the time to reward and acknowledge their efforts. Keeping the spirits high in your team helps improve overall productivity.
Social loafing is a major obstacle in the productivity of any organization. The management must take steps to address this psychological phenomenon quickly to develop and maintain an efficient workforce in the company.