3 Ways to Reduce Social Loafing in the Workplace

3 Ways to Reduce Social Loafing in the Workplace

Reduce social loafing in the workplace
Reduce social loafing in the workplace

Imagine you’re working hard in the conference room at your office, creating a marketing proposal for an upcoming team meeting. You’ve closed the door to give yourself a quiet work environment because you want this pitch to go perfectly. After all, you’re in charge of creating and presenting this proposal on behalf of your entire team. 

Now, imagine that everyone on your team joins you in the conference room, bringing their own ideas for the presentation. Your boss was clear that it was your responsibility to pitch this marketing plan in the meeting, but he never stated who should come up with the idea – does that responsibility fall to you or the entire team?

Will you work harder on your presentation with your whole team in the room, or will you give your best effort only when the task rests squarely on your shoulders? According to Max Ringelmann, the latter is true.

The Ringelmann Effect

In 1913, Max Ringelmann performed a fascinating social experiment. To measure the effect of group size on effort, he asked participants to pull on a rope for 5 seconds in a tug-of-war style game. The experiment was performed by individuals, groups of 7, and groups of 14. A dynamometer was present to measure the respective mean forces for each group. He found that as group six increased, individual effort decreased — and the psychological principle of social loafing was born. 

What Ringelmann discovered has been cited far and wide in the workplace. What is social loafing, you may ask? Simply put, social loafing means that people are likely to exert more effort individually than they would in a group. 

Social loafing in the workplace follows a similar pattern. When a project rests solely with one employee, that person tends to perform at a higher level than when a group is given the same project, particularly if individual tasks are not clearly defined. When teams work together toward a common goal, the effort is often distributed unevenly, with some members working harder than others. This can lead to subpar work and lower productivity and morale. But social loafing is not a certainty. As business leaders and managers identify the causes behind this phenomenon, they can minimize social loafing on their teams permanently.

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3 Causes of Social Loafing

1. Low Motivation

Good managers and business owners do more than just keep projects on task and balance budgets. Anyone can be given a title, but becoming a leader is earned with respect over time. When a manager doesn’t show up to work motivated, those on their teams tend to follow suit. What’s more, poor leadership creates employees who are not motivated to do their best work on an individual level. Those low levels of low motivation are only amplified in group work when employees feel even less responsible for the final product.

2. Diffused Responsibility

When responsibility falls on the shoulders of an entire team, no one person may feel intrinsically responsible for the final result. This can lead to decreased individual effort, leaving other employees to “pick up the slack” — or perhaps even worse, subpar work across the board. Some studies have even shown that employees who typically excel lower their efforts to match coworkers when responsibilities are shared in a bid for social equity. When your best and brightest employees know that their excellent work could be lost in the group effort, they’re much less likely to perform at a high level.

3. Unclear Expectations 

Some group projects underperform simply because of unclear expectations and ambiguous tasks. In the opening example, asking a group to “create a presentation” without elaborating further could lead to general confusion, low motivation, and a subsequent lack of effort. Even the best employees will flounder without clear job parameters and directly assigned tasks.

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3 Ways to Reduce Social Loafing

The majority of social loafing doesn’t come from laziness. Instead, it stems from a lack of leadership, clarity, and motivation. With this in mind, three factors will significantly reduce social loafing in any work environment. 

1. Strong Leadership in Management 

As a manager or business owner, the most effective strategy you can offer your team is a great example to follow. Find motivation to do your best work, and you will inspire others to do the same. What does it mean to “do your best work?” Often, it means reducing unnecessary meetings and reductive tasks, instead enabling your team to spend more time on meaningful work that falls within their skill set. It also means inspiring others regarding character, heart, and values. When team members feel like their leader truly cares about their well-being and not just the company’s bottom line, they’re more likely to show up to work with passion and enthusiasm.

2. Clarity Around Roles and Tasks

If group projects seem to fall short in your workplace, consider that a lack of clarity, rather than a subpar team, may be to blame. From large, sweeping projects to smaller group efforts, every piece of the proverbial puzzle should be attached to a clear who, what, and when. When every person on the team knows which deliverables are their responsibility, as well as when those deliverables are due, social loafing will decrease – and team satisfaction will rise.

3. A Focus on Individual Success

When groups are evaluated only for their collective effort, there is no motivating factor for individual responsibility. Of course, leaders should evaluate group efforts on projects and deliverables. However, hard work on an individual level should also be recognized and rewarded. Praise is a powerful tool in the workplace. When employees know that their best efforts will be seen and appreciated, they’re much more likely to pull their weight at work.

Learn more about CCCK's Online Organizational Leadership Program

Becoming a Better Leader in the Workplace 

Whether you’re an aspiring business owner or a long-time manager, you likely want to become an even stronger leader as your career begins or grows. An organizational leadership degree can offer a meaningful step in that direction. After earning a Bachelor of Science in Organizational Leadership, you’ll graduate with business acumen and interpersonal skills that set you up for success in any workplace. 

A Bachelor’s in organizational leadership affords students countless foundational tools and skills, offering them a diverse and versatile skill set that will serve them well on many paths. At Central Christian College of Kansas Online, you can earn an online organizational leadership degree at your own pace. Learn from an experienced faculty as you study courses ranging from business law to social psychology and conflict negotiation to management principles. 

At CCCK, we’re determined to train and prepare the best business leaders of tomorrow without sacrificing what matters most to them today. Our online curriculum allows students to take courses at their own pace, with flexible start dates and the option to take just one six-week course at a time. With no application fees, easily transferable credits from other programs, and various financial aid options, you can further your education at CCCK while continuing to advance in your career. 

Prepare yourself for tomorrow’s business world by building a foundation of business principles and skills that will serve you well for a lifetime. Connect with an advisor today to learn more about CCCK’s online organizational leadership program.