Social loafing

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In the social psychology of groups, social loafing is the phenomenon of people making less effort to achieve a goal when they work in a group than when they work alone. This is seen as one of the main reasons groups are sometimes less productive than the combined performance of their members working as individuals.


[edit] Theorists & Their Theories

  • Ringelmann, Max : 1913

Research began in 1913 with Max Ringelmann's study. He found that when he asked a group of men to pull on a rope, that they did not pull as hard, or put as much effort into the activity, as they did when they were pulling alone. The main key is that the social loafer or "free-rider" believes that their personal work is not being evaluated. [1].

  • Latane, B, Williams, K, Harkins, S: 1979

According to Latane, "if a person is the target of social forces, increasing the number of other persons diminishes the relative social pressure on each person. If the individual inputs are not identifiable the person may work less hard. Thus if the person is dividing up the work to be performed or the amount of reward he expects to receive, he will work less hard in groups." [2].

Latane, Williams and Harkins believed that being a scientific theory, Social Loafing should the following advanced metatheoretical assumptions: Ontological Assumptions, Epistemological Assumptions, Axiological Assumptions. They also conclude with the importance of Explanatory Power, Predictve Power, Parsimony, Internal Consistency, Heuristic Provocativeness, and Organizing Power. [3]

[edit] Causes

The main explanation for social loafing is that people feel unmotivated when working with a team, because they think that their contributions will not be evaluated or considered.

According to the results of a meta-analysis study (Karau & Williams, 1993), social loafing is a pervasive phenomenon, but it does not occur when team members feel that the task or the team itself is important. It can occur when the person feels under appreciated within their team or group.

Social loafing occurs in a group situation in which the presence of others causes relaxation instead of arousal. When individuals relax their performance, they are able to fade into the crowd, which is especially appealing to people when they know they are not going to be accountable for their actions or performance. In easier, less demanding tasks, such as singing happy birthday or giving applause, one is likely to exert less effort due to the concept of diffusion of responsibility. This occurs when people think that they can “get a free ride” because someone else will surely pick up the slack.

Social loafing is associated with poor performance on easy tasks. However, people tend to exert more effort on challenging or rewarding tasks. If a group is completing a task for some kind of reward, such as money or a good grade, then members are more likely to try harder. Generally, a greater reward results in more motivation to perform well, and therefore, more effort. People will also work harder when they feel their particular tasks or efforts are indispensable to the group’s success.

[edit] Solutions

The answer to social loafing is motivation. A competitive environment may not necessarily get group members motivated. For Rothwell, it takes "the three C's of motivation" to get a group moving: collaboration, content, and choice.

  1. Collaboration is a way to get everyone involved in the group by assigning each member special, meaningful tasks. (CSCW, 2000) It is a way for the group members to share the knowledge and the tasks to be fulfilled unfailingly. For example, if Sally and Paul were loafing because they were not given specific tasks, then giving Paul the note taker duty and Sally the brainstorming duty will make them feel essential to the group. Sally and Paul will be less likely to want to let the group down, because they have specific obligations to complete.
  2. Content identifies the importance of the individual's specific tasks within the group. If group members see their role as that involved in completing a worthy task, then they are more likely to fulfill it. For example, Sally may enjoy brainstorming, as she knows that she will bring a lot to the group if she fulfills this obligation. She feels that her obligation will be valued by the group.
  3. Choice gives the group members the opportunity to choose the task they want to fulfill. Assigning roles in a group causes complaints and frustration. Allowing group members the freedom to choose their role makes social loafing less significant, and encourages the members to work together as a team.

In conjunction with the "three C's of motivation," Latane, Williams and Harkins have three three possible options to combat social loafing. They include:

  1. Attribution and Equity: Many times, people come into groups with preconceived notions of much much effort they will put in or how other slack off in groups.
  2. Submaximal Goal Setting: Like Collaboration, tasks should be made and distributed with optimization instead of maximization. Once each member has a specific duty, instead of many working on the same task, then they will have the opportunity to be evaluated as an individual as well as a group member.
  3. Lessened contingency between input and output: Social Loafers believe that they can "hide in the crowd" to avoid negative effects,or that they will get lost in the crowd" and feel that they will not get proper credit when they deserve it.

[edit] Social Loafing and the Workplace

Work Conditions under which Social Loafing does NOT Occur:

  1. when the individual's contributions are CLEARLY identified by the fellow group members
  2. when subjects are personally involved
  3. when there is high group cooperation
  4. when the task is challenging
  5. the reward suits the end product

According to Hwee Hoon Tan and Min Li Tan, social loafing is an important area of interest in order to understand group work. While the opposite of Social Loafing, called Organizational Citizenship Behavior can create significant productivity increases, both of these behaviors can significantly impact the performance of organizations. Social loafing is a behavior that organizations want to eliminate. Understanding how and why people become social loafers is critical to the effective functioning, competitiveness and effectiveness of an organization.

[edit] References

[edit] See also

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