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Author Vadim
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Social Loafing In The Team Or What To Do With People Who Skive Work

One of the problems of every team is lazybones at work.
How to deal with loafing at work? — every manager asked this question once or twice, probably.


If there is a lot of work and one person can not cope with it, then putting two people will double the productivity, and three — triple? Not really.

Many think so, as they say: "One head — good, two — better." There are situations when for one person the task is too heavy, and working together brings better results. Quite often in the offices of employees are self-organized into a group for the joint execution of tasks. Maybe a person is called a social animal for a reason, which is more comfortable to work in a team? But not everyone can work in a team with full dedication. There are such employees who hide behind someone else's backs.

Ideally, the team should reach for the best. This happens very rarely, during periods of some special emotional impulses. But the realities of everyday work show the opposite: the team is looking up to the weakest employee. The reason is simple - no one wants to work overtime. This means that the performance of the whole team depends on the weakest member of the team. Let's compare it with a computer: if it has a weak processor, and all other parts work perfectly, it will still "slow down". It's the same with people. After all, everyone will be happy to wait until the slowest colleague will finish his part of the work. In fact, nobody likes lazybones, but everyone tries to adapt to the weakest player. And from this, as you know, labour productivity does not benefit.

The effect of social loafing or laziness (Ringelmann effect) is a psychological effect, which consists of the fall of individual effectiveness when working together in a group. Total productivity and achievements, built on the individual efforts of the participants, as a rule, are superior to those in which the participants work together. The larger the team, the more social loafing is apparent. In other words, when there is an opportunity to "get lost in the crowd", everyone makes a little less effort than when working alone.

For the effect of social loafing, there are other names: the sucker effect and free rider effect.

Let's look at an example:

If a team of 8 people participates in the tug of war competition, will their total efforts be equal to the sum of the efforts of 8 people participating in the personal championship? If not, why not? And what personal input can be expected from all members of the working group?

Almost 50 years ago, the French engineer Max Ringelmann proved that the collective effort of such a team is 2 times less than the amount of individual effort. This means, contrary to popular belief that "the team is the power", that the members of the group may have less reason to work effectively on assignments.

To get the effect of social loafing or laziness, it is not necessary that the members of the group participate in such competition. Such group may be employees in the purchasing department, warehouse, and sales department. They all have a common goal – to meet the needs of customers to the maximum extent and in the shortest possible time. 
Moreover, a group may consist of accounting staff, because they also have a common goal – the preparation of correct financial statements. Generally speaking, the company as a whole can be called a group, because employees have a common goal – the company's profit.

What are the causes of this "skive" of individuals when bringing them together in a group? And how to deal with it?

Social psychologists explain this effect by the fact that, working in a group, an individual prefers to hide in the crowd; his individual results are not clearly visible, and that is why one can afford to "skive".

Indeed, the results of studies show that when, along with the group, individual performance is recorded, then social loafing disappears. In other words, when not only how much the group has done as a whole is seen, but also the work of each individual.

However, the reality is that it is not always possible to accurately measure individual results. Take the example of group work in meetings. Suppose there is a discussion of ways to solve a production problem. The meeting is attended by managers and leading specialists of various divisions of the company. How to assess the individual contribution of each participant in the solution of the problem? The number of ideas put forward, their quality, the total time of speeches ..? Problematically. One can talk a lot, but "not on business." And another for the entire discussion stays in silence and then gives a super idea.

More recently, a study by Worchel, Rothgerber & Day, 2011 has produced data that sheds new light on the phenomenon of social loafing and offers some additional recommendations to get rid of this undesirable effect.

The results of the experiments show that the value of the social loafing effect is related to the level of “maturity” of the group. In the early stages, when the group is just formed, the effect of social loafing is not observed, on the contrary, there is even a tendency of participants to work better in a group than individually. On the other hand, when a group exists for a long time when it becomes “mature”, the effect of social laziness is fully manifested.

The explanation of these facts is following. In the early stages, most members of the group seem to merge with it, consider themselves and the group as a whole. Over time, however, this sense of unity weakens, the individual begins to mentally separate himself from the team, divide personal working interests and the interests of the group; as a result, the group becomes a set of functionally (but not emotionally) related individuals.

 The Manager should take into account a number of factors that significantly reduce the possibility of manifestation of the effect of social loafing or laziness at work:

  • the presence of individual responsibility for the results of their work: the higher the responsibility, the lower the social laziness;
  • job satisfaction: the higher the level of satisfaction with the work of employees, the lower their social loafing;
  • group size: the larger the group size, the higher the social loafing;
  • gender differences: statistically established that women are lesser socially lazy than we men, if you know what I mean :)

 If the Ringelmann effect is still manifested in order to make the group's activities as productive as possible, the following can be done:

  • In “mature”, established groups, it is necessary to clearly measure the individual performance of each employee, to put the remuneration system depending on individual results.
  • New groups need to be created more often. This does not necessarily require the destruction and disbanding of existing teams. Just in addition to the existing, it makes sense to create new, perhaps temporary associations of employees: for example, different kinds of project groups created for the solution of a certain task on a temporary basis from employees of different departments. 
  • In "young" groups, it is not necessary to fix the attention of participants on their individual results, it can break the sense of unity of group members, shift the focus from the sense of "we" to the sense of "I", weaken the sense of identification with the group and the desire to work on the overall result. 
  • Set clear goals for the group. If the members of the group clearly see a clear objective for the functioning of the group, they will definitely work more effectively than those who have long lost sight of it. 

Knowledge of the above-described effects and patterns of group efficiency by the manager and their rational use in management practice can significantly optimize the joint activities of employees and increase their effectiveness.

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