What is social loafing?
Did you wonder why you feel less motivated to accomplish a group task compared to an individual assignment? Or, do you notice that the bigger the group, the less output being produced?
What causes this problem?
Well, before discussing the psychology behind group behavior, let us talk about the concept that drives group behavior.
In psychology, an individual’s tendency to contribute less to a group is called social loafing.
Social loafing happens when each group member assumes little or no responsibility towards the completion of the given task.
It happens in workplaces but more prominent in the academic setting. Imagine that you were given an assignment by your teacher to work on weekends. But you were instructed to work with several group mates.
Because you work with others, this means that you cannot start the project on your own. As a result, you can not execute your own strategies and start the task immediately.
The problem is, as you learned along the way, some or most of your group mates do not contribute to the task. You realized that having many heads is actually not productive. This is because every member assumes lesser responsibility than you think.
The worst thing about social loafing is that every member of the group tends to assume that other member will take the responsibility. And this may include you.
As a result, the project was delayed. Whereas if your teacher gave an individual assignment, you could have finished it earlier than the deadline.
What causes social loafing?
If you haven’t worked with a group before then probably you have no idea about it. But most of us know it although you might know the name of this psychological phenomenon.
Psychologists identified the reasons why social loafing happens. Below are the common explanations:
Motivation is one of the reasons why loafing happens in the group. If group members are forced to do something they don’t like, they will be less motivated to do it. Thus, social loafing will most likely to occur.
When you are in a group, you may think that your accountability or responsibility is lesser. Thus, your contribution to the task may be perceived as irrelevant.
Diffusion of responsibility influences group members’ motivation to contribute to the group. The bigger the group the greater the possibility that group members will not give their part. This is because members would think that their contribution will not matter to the group’s outcome.
This is the most obvious component of social loafing. The smaller the group (3 members for instance) the more motivated the members will become. Everyone plays his own role and contribute more. Why? Because everyone thinks that his/her contribution is valuable and he/she is a big part of the group.
Your personal perception of the group members’ performance matters. If you expect that your teammates will not do their jobs, then so do you. You will compare yourself with other group members.
However, if you belong to a hardworking and highly competitive group, you might also be more motivated to participate in the task.
How to prevent social loafing?
It is obvious that social loafing can have a detrimental impact on the group’s outcome. If you are a leader, you might be wondering how you can maximize the group’s potential. Is there any way to prevent social loafing from happening?
Fortunately, there are some alternatives you can employ to minimize social loafing.
Make the group size small
In a smaller group, every member will be more sensitive to the responsibility they need to undertake. The smaller the group size the more significant and visible the contribution every member has to give. Assign each aspect of the task individually as well as the guidelines on how to proceed. And most importantly, acknowledge the output that each member has contributed.
In this way, you will be able to establish loyalty from the members of the group. The more loyal each member becomes, the more they contribute to the completion of the task.
Make every member a great contributor by making them aware of their personal connection with the group. People who feel belonged to a group will define themselves as members of the group. In this way, social loading will be replaced with hard work and better group performance.
Set clear goals
One of the best ways to prevent social loafing is setting a high goal. Members should be informed and guided by the objectives of the group. But it must be a clear goal. Even the goal is difficult to achieve, as long it is clear, the members will be willing to do their part.
Assess individual contribution
Social loafing usually happens when the group leader only assesses the overall performance of the group. Making an individual assessment of each member will prevent the social loafing tendency among the members.
As a teacher, I know when students mostly loaf. As found in scientific studies, social loafing commonly happens when the group is big. So what I usually do is to create smaller groups. In addition, I also assess individual performance instead of giving the members ubiquitous grade.