The Complete Elimination of Social Loafing in Group Projects

What is Social Loafing?

Social Loafing is a cognitive process that occurs in a group setting in which individuals do not pull their weight to help maximize the group dynamic. Social loafing is not specific to known slackers. Social loafing is a cognitive decision that is made by every individual depending on the circumstance. This can happen because of:

  • Unfamiliarity with the subject of the project or members in the group.
  • The consequence of everyone in the group getting the same grade, therefore eliminating the need for the member to produce their best work.
  • A decreased level of interest on the subject of the project than the rest of the group. (Comer 1995)

Why does Social Loafing Happen?

Social loafing can occur in physical contexts, such as rope pulling, sports, or crowd participation at sporting events, or cognitive contexts, such as brainstorming as a group, group lab work, or even contributions to online forums like this one.

Social loafing transpires because of two general issues:

  1. First the communication between the group members is poor (or there are issues in coordination) such as every group member unknowingly writing the same idea, or not all members of the group paddling in time with the drum in a dragon boat race.
  2. Second, there is a decrease in motivation of one or more members of a group. A good example of this second problem is a group member cognitively deciding to reject a project because they did not get their own way. (van Dick, Tissington, Hertel, 2009)

In both cases, individuals guilty of social loafing did so because they figured their individual ideas, or efforts would not be identified, or because they thought their ideas were not necessary to include in a project with more extroverted members. (van Dick, Tissington , & Hertel ,2009)

How Can Social Loafing be Completely Eliminated?

Here are two ways to reduce or eliminate social loafing in your group projects:

  1. Often, an excuse that social loafers will make to excuse their behaviour is the statement:

My schedule is so full, I have no time to meet up and get this project done. Just assign me a small part to research and write about, and I’ll email it later.”

This statement removes the onus from the loafer, forcing the rest of the group members to divide up tasks and assign a topic to the loafer that has a low time commitment. Research from Stevens M.C. shows that using technology can help move the project forward. Using a public, live forum that every member of the group can access (such as Google Docs) eliminates the need for the group to physically meet up at all and takes away the excuse for not being able to meet in person. The fact that it is live shows the group exactly who is contributing and how much each person is contributing. Assigning each group member a particular colour of font can help maintain responsibility to match the length and quality of their information with that of their peers. (Stevens, 2007)

  1. A big conflict in any group project arises at the end of the project when group members come forward with the true feelings of their fellow group members.

“John didn’t do an equal amount of work as the rest of us on this project!”

“Kate and Mary took over the project and demanded it all be done a certain way! There wasn’t anything I felt I could uniquely contribute!”

A genius marking scale provided by Stevens M.C. (see Figure 1.) presents a nine point marking scale, placing 5 (the top mark) in the middle of the scale. The scale accounts for group members who may have put too little into the project, and group members who completely took control of the project. A one on the five point scale is awarded to both those who do not do enough, and those who do too much. A five on the five point scale represents the group member working with the perfect amount of group participation: contributing unique and insightful ideas, while not making their ideas the spotlight of the presentation. (Stevens, 2007)

save-me-from-this-awful-life

Figure 1: Image of sample peer grade scale from Margaret Carnes Stevens. http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.uleth.ca/stable/pdf/27559318.pdf

Next time a group project is assigned in one of your University classes, talk to the professor about these two tips to reduce or even eliminate social loafing in your group project.

References:

Comer, R. (1995). A Model of Social Loafing in Real Work Groups. Human Relations, 48 (6), 647-667.

Stevens, M.C. (2007). The Quick Fix: Making Groups Work. College Teaching, 55 (2), 88.

van Dick, R., Tissington P. , &Hertel G. ,(2009). Do many hands make light work? How to overcome social loafing and gain motivation in work teams. European Business Review, 21(3), 233-245.

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10 thoughts on “The Complete Elimination of Social Loafing in Group Projects

  1. Your presentation this week was awesome! Your topic is super interesting because we’ve all experienced this before in group work. This article I found notes that as group size grows, so does the lack of participation from the group members. The researchers believe this is because there are more “coordination” links, which means that each person feels like they are being pulled in too many directions. This causes a lack in group cohesion, and therefore, a lack in effort put forward. They also say that this all occurs because of faulty social interactions within the group. I totally agree with what they say because when there is a lack of communication, everything goes downhill.

    George, J. M. (1992). Extrinsic and intrinsic origins of perceived social loafing in organizations. Academy of Management Journal, 35(1), 191-202.

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    • Yes! One of the many things I love about this course is that we get to apply the theory of cognition to social psychology. The way people interact and why people interact in the way they do has always been a deep fascination of mine. Like you said, as the group gets larger, it does indeed get harder to eliminate social loafing. In groups, it becomes easier for individuals to shirk their duties. In large venues, such as sports arenas, activities such as clapping or cheering shows large numbers of people who don’t participate. To decrease loafing in these situations, emcees and hosts will often try to include activities that maximize audience participation. There is science that proves that if you get a certain percentage of the crowd cheering, the group cohesion intensifies, and social loafing is greatly reduced. For example, clapping and laughing through a stand up comedy act, versus a standing ovation at the end of the stand up act. During the act people will only clap if they think something is funny, but at the end, when everybody stand up at once, very few will remain seated. So even on a grand scale, social loafing can be reduced.

      Reference:
      Carpentier, N. (2001).Managing Audience Participation: The Construction of Participation in an Audience Discussion Programme. European Journal of Communication, 16 (2), 1-24.

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  2. First off! I really found your talk super interesting and also thought the poster was a great touch! The blog was a great build off, and I find it a
    very thought provoking concept especially because I remember myself being in both positions in the past. I took a psychology course last semester that had to do with animal behaviour and how their actions/behaviours can translate into behaviours that we as humans experience and the professor brought up the idea of “cheating” and how it would be evolved or bred out of a population due to the fact that the risk factors (which included their survival) was too high. It has to do more with mutualistic and altruistic relationships, so if one does not co-operate in a species but gains from others co-operating, it is considered cheating. Natural Selection favours cheating but there are mechanisms to regulate it. (1)

    I saw how you added tips to reduce social loafing so I thought I’d add a few ways nature produces countermeasures or constraints that regulate these cheaters, some examples are
    A) Policing/ punishment within the organism species
    B) Selection pressure (in bacteria)
    C) Say there is a group of gazelles, if there is one on the outside of the group “cheating” and not paying attention to predators the risk level of that area being attacked increases. And if they are eaten, the ability to pass on their genes would be impossible.

    (1) Cheating (biology). (2016, December 15). Retrieved January 20, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheating_(biology)

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    • Hey there! In my research to respond to your comment, I found the coolest article I have ever read on social loafing. It is called “Adaptive consequences of social loafing”. In this article it says that in nature, animals had to eliminate social loafing from their evolutionary development of the species because a lazy animal who doesn’t help the pack, or flock, or herd, etc. is not an animal worth keeping around. In animals, group cohesion is a must. As an example, ducks, dolphins, lobsters and a variety of birds travle together because it helps reduce energy expendature of the group as a whole and causes the group to be able to travel farther in a day or night becasue every member of the group helps the group want to continue travelling longer. This relates to cognition because the cognitive decisions made by an animal are only to ensure their survival. Social loafing isn’t a social phenomenon often seen in nature because laziness is deadly, and easily weeded out. In humans, we have been able to adapt farther than just for the purpose of survival, so if we loaf, it won’t kill us. Very very interesting research here which I might have to look into in the future!

      Reference:

      Bluhm,D.J.(2009). Adaptive Consequences of Social Loafing. Annual meeting proceedings (Academy of Management), 8 (1), 1-6.

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  3. I find this topic very interesting, as I am guilty of social loafing just as much as anyone else. I’m curious about the thought process of social loafing, and whether it is a conscious decision, or if it just kind of happens. Either way, social loafing causes a real problem for people who have to work together. There must be a way to decrease social loafing.

    A study done by Smith, Kerr, Markus, and Stasson (2001) discusses the idea of a person’s need for cognition and how that affects the effort put into a group task. In the study they found that people who require cognitively engaging tasks put the same level of effort into a task in a group setting, as in a partner setting. The belief is that these people find the task itself intrinsically motivating.

    One way to decrease social loafing in a group project would be to make sure each person in the group feels cognitively engaged. It is important to find tasks that the person finds interesting. They will be more likely to put the effort into the project and the group will work better overall.

    References
    Smith, B. N., Kerr, N. A., Markus, M. J., & Stasson, M. F. (2001). Individual differences in social loafing: Need for cognition as a motivator in collective performance. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice 5(2). Doi: 10.1037//1098-2699.5.2.150

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    • For my response to your comment on cognitive methods to reduce social loafing, I am going to examine the cross-cultural difference of social loafing in American youth, and Chinese youth. This topic is so interesting, I may have to write on it in the future. As we know, The People’s Republic of China celebrates collectivism over individualism. For every cognitive decision made, it is made with the intention of the family, or the social group, or by extension — the country. In a study done titled “The Optimizing Task”, a test in which quality of ideas is wanted over quantity of ideas. The results were fascinating! While American males produced an output of 82% effort when placed into pairs, Chinese males produced an output of 110.1% of effort in comparison to their individual output of effort. This proves that social loafing is almost non-existent in Chinese workplaces. It also proves that the cognitive process of Asian men works better when in groups than when individually. Social loafing does still take place, but loafers in Chinese companies, just like animals in nature (see one of my previous comments in this thread) are identified and eliminated.

      Reference:

      Gabrenya, W.K., Wang, Y.E., Latané, B. (1985) Social Loafing on an Optimizing Task: Cross-Cultural Differences among Chinese and Americans. Journal of Cross- Cultural Psychology, 16 (2), 1-20.

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  4. Great presentation!
    I find that social loafing happens a lot in the workplace and I found an article that speaks on this. Personally, I feel that I often have to take a step back when trying to complete projects at work or when I am constantly completing a specific task and it becomes expected of me. I’m not sure if other workplaces are like this (would love some insight!) but I don’t want to be solely responsible for a task that is everyone’s responsibility. If it becomes expected of me, I feel that I cannot take on other tasks that I may be interested in and others will not be able to complete said task in my absence. I also find that I like to control a group task, perhaps because I have previously been in a manager position for multiple years, but others begin to rely on my guidance. I’m sure this happens with others that find themselves in leadership roles but it leads to others relying on you during other tasks as well. The article I found speaks on rewarding individual contributions to ensure equal effort from each team member. Although the article uses merit pay as an example, I have found that praise and small rewards (coffee, extra lunch break, etc.) also work well!
    Has anyone else found techniques that work well in the workplace to ensure equal contributions from each team member?

    Reference:
    http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/088636879502700410

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    • I actually have found one more method that works famously for trying to reduce social loafing in the classroom and in the workplace. And it is a system you will recognize immediately. The system I am referring to is reducing social loafing by publicly posting performance reviews and rankings. When I was in high school, I worked at a cell phone company called Wireless Wave. The way this business eliminated social loafing was by posting the top three salesmen of the day, week and month in order of commission made. The top three salesmen got bonuses on their paychecks. First got an extra 10%, second got an extra 8%, and third got an extra 5%. This created a very powerful cognitive incentive to participate. It is sad to say that I was never in the top three. Out of seventeen employees, I always bounced between 4th and 5th. The motivatio for me to sell the most cell phones gave me the drive to perform the best that I have at any job in my life. This works in the classroom too. Without any incentive, just posting the class list (using student numbers to maintain anonymity) you can gauge how well in the class you are doing in comparison with your peers. I was in both regular stream classes and AP classes, and this method was the best way to get kids who cared involved in their own education. If you are interested in this idea, the paper written by Robert Lount Jr. on posting performance to eliminate social loafing has some excellent thoughts on the idea, as well as an expansion on my basic example of company commission.

      Reference:

      Lount, R.B. (2013). Working Harder or Hardly Working? Posting Performance
      Eliminates Social Loafing and Promotes Social Laboring in
      Workgroups. Journal of Management Science, 60 (5), 1098 – 1106.

      Like

  5. Very interesting Post! I was in a group project one semester with about 6 other people, and I felt that social loafing happened a lot though out the whole project. I found some other important aspects that would also help decrease social loafing, such as identifiability, and group cohesiveness.
    If each person in a group has a specific identity, everyone in the group would each have a specific role, or subject assigned to them. This would make every individual have their own topic, therefore, making them obligated to do their own share.
    Group cohesiveness is important. If everyone in the group gets along, people will feel more obligated to participate, so that they do not let their group down. Group bonding activities could also create closer bonds with people within their groups.

    Reference:
    https://gigaom.com/2010/10/15/how-to-avoid-social-loafing-on-your-next-project/

    Like

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