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social loafing

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Social loafing is a reduction of individual effort that tends to occur when people work in groups. Although people vary in their tendency to take responsibility, most assume that others on a team will do the bulk of the work. Furthermore, the more "others" there are in a group, the less the individual members feel they must take responsibility for the given tasks.

Overcoming these issues can be difficult, not least because social loafing is often unconscious: team members typically tend to believe that they’re working to capacity. Social loafing is one of two main factors behind the Ringelmann effect, which describes a reduction in group efficiency that occurs as the size of a work group increases. The other factor is the decrease in efficiency created by ineffective coordination of efforts and tasks among individual team members.

Project management experts recommend a number of tactics to prevent social loafing:

  • Make individual efforts detectable and quantifiable, through measures such as reporting.
  • Encourage competition among team members.
  • If possible, break the work into separate tasks that specific individuals are responsible for. 
  • Emphasize the importance of each person’s effort.
  • Establish clear goals and monitor progress toward them.
  • Decrease team sizes.
This was last updated in January 2019

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