Social loafing is the idea that groups can become unproductive as members of the group tend to work less in a group environment than they would if they were working on their own. The larger the groups the more unproductive an individual often becomes as the larger the group is the easier it can be to hide their lack of work. Two examples of social loafing which can be found in the literature include Ringelmanns experiments which were again detailed by Kravitz and Martin (1986) and Latané, Williams and Harkins (1979).
In the 1890’s Ringelmann had people in groups of different sizes and individually pull on ropes so he could measure how hard they pulled. The experiment showed that the more people that were in the group then the less effort each person put into the work than if they were pulling on their own.
Latané, Williams and Harkins (1979) also experimented with crowds clapping and cheering and came to a similar conclusion. When the groups became larger people clapped and cheered much less than if they had been on their own.
It is therefore important to understand in a workplace why people have a tendency towards social loafing and these are a few contributing factors. These include people expecting others around them to do the same thing, in large groups people become less individualized so both praise and failure are attributed to all and frequently there are not clear aims set so there is no clear goal to work towards. It can also be attributed to lack of motivation
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Having tasks that are too difficult or are unfamiliar are likely to incite social loafing because they group member lacks the ability or courage to provide input. Robbins and Judge (2011) theorize that another cause of social loafing is an uneven equity. When two people are putting in different levels of input and receiving the same level of output the larger contributor will adjust their input to reduce cognitive dissonance. Another reason they believe is “dispersion of responsibility” group members cannot be held responsible because tasks and roles are not clearly assigned. (Robbins & Judge, 2011). In research by Worchel and others (1998) it was found that groups with friends or familiar members are far less likely to loaf when compared with groups made up of strangers (Worchel, Rothgerber, Day, Hart, & Butemeyer, 1998) Most people have been in a group made up of friends and colleges they are familiar with and seen that in these types of groups social loafing is drastically reduced.
“Group work is a form of voluntary association of members benefiting from cooperative learning that enhances the total output of the activity than when done individually”.