Social Loafing Examples

Social loafing refers to a phenomenon when a person exerts less effort while working in a group than while working alone. Social loafing in the workplace often creates problems for teams as it affects productivity, team dynamics, and team communication.

Max Ringelmann, a French professor of agricultural engineering, first observed social loafing in 1913 while he was experimenting with rope pulling. Ringelmann found that people put more effort when they were pulling the rope by themselves than when they were part of a group. The phenomenon is also referred to as the “Ringelman’s effect.”

Social loafing is mainly caused by the following.

  • Group size
  • Lack of clarity
  • Lack of accountability
  • Diffusion of responsibility
  • Perception of inequity
  • Reduced motivation
  • Expectations of other people’s performance
  • Cultural differences

Examples of Social Loafing

#1. Slacking in a Team

Slacking is the most relevant example of social loafing. A slacker in a group is a person who assumes that someone else will take care of the team task, and he/she refuses to take responsibility for it.

Instead of collaborating with the team, slackers focus on other tasks they deem more important, eating their teammates’ time. Slackers’ attitude has a negative effect on the team, and it can even lead to team conflicts.

#2. The Invisible Team Member

The invisible team member hardly contributes or is never heard from. This person usually remains completely silent and hesitates to contribute ideas, offer solutions, or take on tasks.

These social loafers do so as they are afraid their opinions won’t be valued or will lead to miscommunication in the team. Although he/she doesn’t contribute, he/she expects his/her name to be on the final report.

#3. The Free Rider

A free rider in a group is a person who barely contributes but sits back and waits until the task is done so he/she can enjoy the benefits of the group’s hard work. Although this social loafer doesn’t doesn’t contribute to the success, he/she accepts praise for the team’s effort.

Accountability is the underlying cause of a free rider. This behaviour is mostly caused by social loafer’s lack of ownership of the project and a lack of clear roles and responsibilities.

#4. Social Conformity

In this case, a person becomes a social loafer when the entire team lacks motivation. Initially, the person gets involved in the task with full energy, however, when he/she starts noticing that the team isn’t putting in much effort, he/she into a social loafer who only does the bare minimum because their teammates do the same.

The main cause of this behaviour is that the person who turns into a social loafer might feel like it won’t make a difference anyway.

#5. Bystanding

The bystander effect is a phenomenon when people don’t help someone in need as they think someone else will surely do that. The main cause of this behaviour is a feeling of diffusion of responsibility or an assumption that someone else will take care of it.

For example, in a meeting, when the team leader asks its members to volunteer for a particular project, no one raises their hands as everyone thinks someone else will do the task.

#6. The ‘perfectionist’ loafer

In this case, a social loafer waits for a perfect time or condition to start work. When a project has a strict deadline, and the team leader assigns certain tasks to the team members, expecting them to complete the task by a certain date.

However, one of the team members, the perfectionist loafer, is constantly pushing back the deadline, saying that it’s not perfect enough, leading to a decrease in morale and productivity, as well as missed deadlines. The main cause of this behaviour is fear of failure or not wanting to make mistakes.

#7. The ‘too cool’ loafer

This social loafer doesn’t take the task seriously and puts in minimal effort as he/she thinks it won’t affect the outcome of the project. The main cause of this behaviour is a sense of superiority or arrogance. These social loafers think the task is not worth their time or effort.

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