Table of contents:
2. Social loafing in group and classroom setting
3. Social loafing as a source of team and group conflicts
4. Overcoming social loafing
The behavior of an individual is highly dependent on his or her social environment and it may differ consistently. In this respect, an individual may develop different models of behavior in different social situations. At the same time, such a differentiation can influence his or her performance at work or in a group. Many specialists (Cox and Bobrowski, 2000; Guerin, 1999; Piezon and Donaldson, 2005) have already noticed that the work of an individual in group can lead to different reactions and contribute to social facilitation, deindividuation and social loafing. The latter is particularly noteworthy as a socially significant phenomenon because potentially it can led to numerous conflicts within a group, contradictions and growing communication gap. In such a context, it is very important to analyze the recent researches concerning the problem of the social loafing because, till the present moment, the concept of the social loafing is a subject of heat discussions between specialists. In this respect, effects of the social loafing on the relationship of individuals within a group are particularly noteworthy because potentially the social loafing may be quite widely spread phenomenon. Consequently, it is necessary to research the essence and concept of the social loafing, its effects and what is even more important the ways of prevention and overcoming negative effects of the social loafing.
Social loafing in group and classroom setting
On analyzing the problem of the social loafing, it is important to underline that this problem arises when individuals work in groups or teams and, in a way, this problem may be viewed as an effect of the social interaction of people and the impact of the group on the behavior of an individual. Specialists (Piezon and Donaldson, 2005) define the social loafing as the reduction of individual efforts when working in groups compared to the individual efforts expended when working alone. In such a way, Piezon and Donaldson reveal a substantial difference in the behavior of an individual when he or she works in a group and alone. At this point other specialists, including Guerin (1999) and Cox and Bobrowski (2000) agree on the definition of the social loafing and its social nature. The latter means that the group influences the behavior of an individual in quite a negative because social loafing apparently implies the deterioration of the effectiveness of the work of a person in a group and, therefore, the effectiveness of the work of an individual decreases respectively. At the same time, the reaction of individuals on the group work may be different.
In fact, the group work does not necessarily mean an individual will tend to social loafing. In this respect, it is necessary to take into consideration various factors, including the socio-cultural background of an individual, gender, traditions, etc. For instance, specialists (Cox and Bobrowski, 2000) notice that the social loafing can depend on the gender of an individual since they have revealed the fact that men are more inclined to the social loafing compared to women. Thus, men are more likely to decrease their efforts while working in a group, while the effectiveness of work of women in a group does not decrease substantially.
Other researches, conducted by Piezon and Donaldson (2005) have revealed socio-cultural differences of the problem of the social loafing. What is meant here is the fact that the researchers (Piezon and Donaldson, 2005) have traced the difference in social loafing among different ethnic groups, which have absolutely different socio-cultural background. As a result, they have revealed the fact that western people are more inclined to the social loafing compared to representative of Oriental cultures, such as Japanese or Chinese one. At this point, the different degree of susceptibility of representatives of different socio-cultural groups to the problem of the social loafing may be explained by the difference of the mentality of various socio-cultural groups. For instance, it is not a secret that Oriental societies tend to collectivism, while western societies are, in contrast, highly individualistic. Therefore, representative of Oriental societies are more responsible while working in a group, while western people are not willing to do their best when their individual efforts cannot be fully assessed and appreciated.
By the way, the assessment and evaluation are extremely important for social loafing because specialists (Piezon and Donaldson, 2005) explain the problem of social loafing by the lack of the assessment and evaluation of an individual by the group. As a result, individuals working in a group decrease their effort. This trend may be traced in any form of a group work from large companies to the classroom. For instance, today, the team management is widely spread but it inevitably involves the group work. The latter often results in the problem of social loafing when members of a team share responsibilities and duties but they do not perform them well enough or worse compared to their individual work simply because they work in a group and their work is not adequately evaluated. The same trend can be traced in the classroom, especially when students work in groups. In such a situation, students are more likely to decrease their efforts and rather rely on other members of the group than on their own knowledge and skills.
Obviously, teachers cannot always assess the work of each student in a group but, instead they assess the work of the entire group annihilating the individual contribution of each student to the group work.
However, it is not only the lack of evaluation that stimulates and evokes social loafing. Guerin (1999), for instance, argues that social loafing is closely intertwined with deindividuation when the work of an individual in a group gets impersonalized. This is particularly harmful for representatives of western societies who highly appreciate individualism and, in such a context the group work can deteriorate their performance.
In such a way, the effects of social loafing are apparently negative since they decrease the effectiveness of the group and team work, decreasing the performance of individual within a group.
Social loafing as a source of team and group conflicts
Naturally, the deterioration of the performance of each or some member of a group leads to the deterioration of the performance of the entire group (Guerin, 1999). The latter inevitably provokes conflicts between members of a group or team. In this respect, the role of the individual contribution to the work of a group or team is particularly important. In fact, the problem is that individuals working in a group rather tend to rely the responsibility for the outcomes of the group work on other members of the group, while they tend to ignore their own responsibility and their own contribution to the outcomes of the group work. Moreover, while working in a group people are likely to assess the work of other members of the group. As a result, the general deterioration of the performance of the group or team work stimulates people to analyze the cause of the deterioration and reasons why the group performs worse.
Naturally, such an analysis can lead to the revelation of the deterioration of work of certain individuals who are more susceptible to social loafing than others. Eventually, such individuals are perceived by the group as the primary cause of the deterioration of the group performance that makes the conflict between these individuals and other members of the group practically inevitable (Cox and Bobrowski, 2000). The individuals, who are the most susceptible to social loafing, gradually become outcasts and may be even excluded from the group because of their poor performance.
However, it is important to underline that the revelation of individuals responsible for the deterioration of the group performance often occurs at the late stages of the group work when the poor group performance is obvious even for the members of the group, but social loafing occurs practically from the start of the group work (Guerin, 1999).
Overcoming social loafing
Taking into consideration the consistent deterioration of the performance of the group in the result of social loafing, the solution of this problem is of a paramount importance for the group and the organization within which the group operates. In this respect, it is necessary to prevent social loafing from the beginning of the group work. No wonder, team learning grows more and more popular in today’s organizations (Cox and Bobrowsky, 2000) because it allows understanding the principles of the functioning of groups and possible problems which may accompany the group work, including the problem of social loafing. Being aware of the problem of social loafing a manager controlling the group work or an educator working with groups in a classroom are more likely to undertake preventive steps to minimize possible negative effects of social loafing.
Recommendations, concerning the prevention and overcoming social loafing can vary consistently but, in general, all the recommendations target at strengthening of the control over the group work, working out clear and strict rules and increasing individual responsibility for outcomes of the group work. For instance, Cox and Bobrowski (2000) recommend setting ground rules at the beginning of the group formation, which can regulate the work of each individual in a group and prevent him or her from social loafing. On extrapolating this idea on the classroom setting, Cox and Bobrowski (2000) provide the following recommendations a teacher should follow to overcome social loafing: provide students with a short but important task so that the team can learn to function quickly without a large portion of the course grade resting on the initial outcome; enable each team to develop and understand the rules of conduct expected of each team member; provide an initial opportunity for team members to get to know one another.
Furthermore, Piezon and Donaldson (2005) recommend creating task interdependence among group members. In actuality, this means that each individual in a group gets an individual task which is important for the fulfillment of the group task and which is needed for other members of the group to fulfill their own tasks in terms of the group work. As a result, a group of students, for instance, can work on one and the same problem but each member of this group will perform a specific task. For instance, one student collects information, another analyzes it, another student edits the analyzed information and finally another student presents the findings of the group to the classroom. In such a way, each student performs important work for the entire group.
Thus, it is possible to conclude that social loafing is a widely spread problem which results in the deterioration of the individual performance as well as the group performance because members of a group work worse compared to their work alone. As a result, social loafing may be a source of conflicts within the group and needs to be overcome with the help of recommendations provided above.