What is Social Loafing?

Definition: Social Loafing is an individual’s tendency to reduce its degree of effort to accomplish a group task. It states that the level of individual effort decreases when there are other people involved in the process.

What Does Social Loafing Mean?

Social Loafing can be broadly explained as a behavior pattern that appears in team dynamics where each of the participant’s reduces the amount of energy invested to achieve the team’s goal compared to the effort they would put in achieving the same task individually. The fact that the success of the activity depends on the effort of many increases the chances that one of the members of the team starts relying in the other ones to do all the work, this is called the “free rider” effect.

Most of us have experienced this situation where someone refuses to do their part and someone else has to carry the load instead. On the other hand, the free rider effect has a consequence that is called the “sucker effect”. This is a consequential situation where, caused by free riders, where the rest of the team refuses to work at their optimal level because they don’t want to be the “suckers”. Social loafing is always a challenge whenever a group is set up to accomplish something.

Example

Matthew, Sara and Lorraine decided to work together for a college assignment they have. The project consists in interviewing at least 15 people within the college campus to find out which social media platforms they use more often. They started this Monday and the results of the survey have to be delivered by next Monday.

In order to be more effective and since Lorraine is more skilled at data analysis, Matthew and Sara decided to interview the people while Lorraine will do the analytics. They also decided to perform 20 interviews instead of 15 to get better results. Sara finished her interviews by Wednesday but Matthew got distracted and he only delivered 5 interviews by Thursday and said he didn’t have enough time to do the rest. Sara refused to do the rest so they decided to present the 15 interviews with Lorraine’s analytics.

In this case, a social loafing situation happened. Matthew took the role of the free rider, letting the team down by relying on the fact that they could step up and do the work themselves, and Sara played the part of the “sucker” since she refused to do the work the free rider didn’t wanted to do.