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Reasons Why Social Loafing Impacts Team Work and Group Work

Updated on April 25, 2018
sangre profile image

Studying for a business degree gave her a better understanding of what is entailed when working with people.

Many organizations will at some point experience social loafing. Social loafing impacts people in colleges and organizations.

People might not be aware of what social loafing is. It is what you call people who don't pull their weight in group projects.

You might have witnessed this type of behaviour in your job or in volunteer positions. The one thing that will help you identify a person behaving in this manner is that they talk and talk about doing something but actually don't do anything.

It's not apparent that a person is like this when they do individual work but it becomes more apparent in team or group work.

If you have a team of four it might not be as obvious. But if you are in a team of six or eight people and everyone has been given a task and some don't complete their task on time, then it's time to take notice of the signs you might see but not understand.

Team and group work should include everybody not just some people.
Team and group work should include everybody not just some people. | Source

What Is Social Loafing

People who don't pull their weight, those who leave meetings early, those who don't attend the meetings, those who don't complete assigned tasks and those who blame others for their mistakes are some examples of social loafers.

At the time when you’re doing an assignment or a project, you probably thought nothing of this behaviour especially if you were overwhelmed. Even if you did notice it, you might just have ignored this behaviour because it was your first time experiencing it.

But it is not a onetime thing, it's usually a continuous thing.

Social Loafing Background

Max Ringlemann an agricultural engineer by day identified this issue and named this phenomenon, ‘Ringlemann Effect’.

His finding showed that individuals were more inclined to put more effort into individual work. But the opposite would happen when it came to team work.

Some people who had to work in teams or groups put in less effort overall. These individuals felt they had nothing to gain from putting as much effort into a group project like their fellow members.

Ringlemanns research concluded that the more people there are in a group, the more chance there is of social loafing. This means that the rest of the group will have to cover the workload of the person who is doing the loafing.

Group Strength

Do you get frustrated if people in your group don't pull their weight?

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Types of people in a group

Group Dynamics
What they do
The Listener
Listens to everyone
The Mediator
Keeps conflict at bay
The Leader
Has the final say on ideas
The Joker
Doesn't contribute anything but keeps everyone entertained
The Dominator
Tries to control everything
The Sniper
Doesn't like anything the group come up with
The Teacher
Keeps eveyone in order
Each person should be allowed to contribute in team work.
Each person should be allowed to contribute in team work. | Source

How Does Social Loafing Occur

Some reasons that Social Loafing can occur are as follows:

  • Group Not Cohesive

    If the members of a team don't know each other or some people in the team don't like the other members, then it will be extremely hard to get them to form a cohesive unit. They will not be able to work together as a good team to complete any project.

    Also if a number of team members are vying to be the leader of the team and none of them will stand down from taking on this position it can cause a lot of aggravation. All of these issues can then impact the structure of the team and they will not gel as well as they should do. The end result could be that the project they were assembled to complete might end up failing to get done on time.

  • Unequal Rewards for Tasks

    If the end result of the completed project is a rewards or a bonus for one or two people then some members in the group might feel displaced and vengeful. If there are five or more people in a group and only two will get rewarded for completing the task then you can bet that there will be issues. If a reward is to be issues it should be for everyone or no one at all.

    The obvious result here will be that some people in the group are going to slack off. If there is no reward for their participation, then why would they feel inclined to put as much effort into the project as the others? They will feel that their contribution is not worth anything.

  • Evaluation

    In college, group work is evaluated as a whole. So no matter what effort you put in, the whole group gets the same grade. Some individuals, who feel that they are smarter than others could take the opportunity here to edit, remove or ignore the work of those who are quieter or not as informed in a particular area. But the less vocal ones might also feel that what they have to contribute is not worthwhile. Either way, both are not acceptable.

    This could then lead to lack of enthusiasm or slacking off. Some members might think that no matter what they do, it will not be good enough. They decide that the stronger and more knowledgeable group members should do all the work to ensure a good grade or brilliant project.

    So while the majority of the team are working as hard as possible to meet the deadline, one person might be doing nothing knowing that the grade they get will be the same as the others.

  • Attitudes

    Some individuals who are more reserved or quieter might feel too intimidated by other members and feel that they cannot contribute to the group. They also might not feel very comfortable expressing an opinion to a group of people they don't know well or who they are not comfortable around.

    Their opinion and effort will be lost within the group. In fact they might have had some great ideas to contribute to the project but don’t feel that they are able to. As well as that they are not given the opportunity to express themselves due to the attitude of others who are more vocal.

    The result here will be that they will feel intimidated and will not contribute as much as the others to the group, not because they don’t want to but because they feel that they can’t.

  • Competition

    Any time a reward is given to entice motivation, problems can arise. If there is a senior person in the group who will be rewarded for the completion of the project, then this type of reward could also lead to social loafing.

    Many members of the group might feel that they are not important enough and have no chance and will not waste the time or effort on contributing to the project.

    If a large group of people are competing for a reward, some individual might not care about it. The will put in less effort compared to other members who really do want to win.

    This will happen where some individuals feel that they might not have any chance whatsoever of winning or those who don't feel confident enough about their own ability to win.

  • Lacking Effort

    In group projects if you notice a pattern of behaviour of social loafing from members at the starts of the project such as constant lateness when attending meetings, not helping with brainstorming, turning in uncompleted work or bullying behaviour, then you have a problem.

    If these issues are not addressed right away, other members might start emulating this behaviour especially in a large group and no longer pull their weight. If they see one person getting away with this, you can bet that a few more will try it too. Then instead of one person doing the loafing, you could easily have three or four members not pulling their weight.

Have you ever had to take part in a team project?

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Two Effects of Social Loafing

Effect 1

In group situations the first effect will be a decrease in the output of the group. Each person will not put in as much effort as they could have to ensure that the project or the assignment is as good as it could be.

If some members of the group see other members being lazy and notice that they are not pulling their weight they will feel annoyed with them. They will think that they are doing more work than the others and feel frustrated. All of these factors could result in a less productive group and a project or assignment not produced to the standard expected.

Effect 2

The next effect will impact the individual who won't feel that they are in a group that is efficient or productive. The will feel unsatisfied with the group and its dynamics. They will likely continue to put in effort to ensure that the project is not substandard. But in the long run they will remember the attitude of the social loafers and in the future they will avoid working with them.

Social Loafers Loose Out

The downside to those who are partaking in the social loafing is that these members will not have realized the opportunities that they have missed out on.

They have not only lost the opportunity to learn from others members but they have also highlighted their behaviour in a manner that will ensure that they are talked about among their colleagues.

Small teams or groups are better than larger ones.
Small teams or groups are better than larger ones. | Source

Reasons Why Social Loafing Occurs


Some people work or attend university in different countries. Some workplaces are very diverse and have people from many cultures working for them.

This means that every day you interact with individuals from other cultures who have different values and attitudes compared to you.

In the Netherlands if you are doing business with another company you are either able to the job or not, they don't accept maybe as an answer.

However, when it comes to team work it’s understandable that sometimes people do not know what will be expected from them. Therefore it’s very important that team members explain what their own strengths and weaknesses are to the group.

Every member needs to work to their own strength. Don't give a quiet person who hates doing presentations the task of presenting the project.


When the time comes to select a leader for a group think carefully before you choose a person. An article in The Atlantic states that woman are more socially sensitive to issues. They are better at understanding non-verbal cues from fellow members.

In a study carried out by Naoki Kugihara he found in a rope pulling competition, the overall group efforts by men, showed that less effort was put in by the men into the task compare to the woman. If there were a lot of woman in the group, they all still work as hard as the other one, no matter whether the number in the group were large or small.

How to Avoid Social Loafing

  • To reduce the impact of social loafing for individuals reduce the numbers in a group. That way everyone has to work as hard as the other members.

  • Encourage the team to become more cohesive. Try to ensure that everyone on the team respect each other opinions and that they listen to other ideas from each member. Also ensure that everybody feels included and that no one is excluded from any aspect of the planning and that each member has the same amount of work to do.

  • Ensure each member leaves their attitude and negativity at the door. If someone in the group is talking over other members and not listening to the opinion of other members, then the group need to confront this individual. This person might not realize they are being a dictator or they might not have any idea of how to work in a team.

  • Each team member should know their own strengths and weaknesses and only take on a task that they feel they are knowledgeable in and that they can complete to the best of their ability.
  • Each member of the team has different capabilities. Some could be good at research and another few could be good at presenting. Assign members tasks that they will excel at. This will reduce the chance of boredom.
  • When working in teams split up jobs and tasks depending on who will be the best at performing them. That way everyone can feel like they have contributed to the project and feel that they were valued.

© 2013 Sp Greaney


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    • sangre profile imageAUTHOR

      Sp Greaney 

      4 months ago from Ireland

      Thanks Gupi. Appreciate your feedback. :)

    • Gurpinder Vir Singh Rai profile image


      4 months ago

      Thank you for sharing the article. I like the way that it is structured clearly defining social loathing, why it occurs and then tips to prevent it. Great work.

    • sangre profile imageAUTHOR

      Sp Greaney 

      6 years ago from Ireland

      @JohnGreasyGamer, you seem to have a good idea of what is expected of people especially strangers. At least with friends you all have an idea of each others strengths and weaknesses.

      I think we all follow that rule sometimes in life about always taking and not giving. But sometimes you got work together. Anyway, good luck with the video game group. I'm sure it will all go fantastic for you. :)

    • JohnGreasyGamer profile image

      John Roberts 

      6 years ago from South Yorkshire, England

      Some really good points made here, and I think this'll help when I start grouping up with people in video games. If you play MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, getting 5 complete strangers together to do a task for "fun" is impossible - it's all about rushing and grabbing the goods before everyone gets any more sick of each other. If the rewards are too great (take my example of video games), most of the group will want to rush ahead to get said rewards and completely disregard everyone else. A good leader can only do so much, after all.

      A fantastic read, Sangre! Voted up, useful and interesting! I shall be referring to this in future ^^


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