Social Loafing or Let’s Do my Job Together

Jun 30, 2017

The phenomenon of social loafing (known as Ringelmann’s effect) is the phenomenon of an individual making less effort to achieve a goal and losing efficiency working in groups, compared to when he/she works alone.  Cumulative achievements based on individual work are often more productive than a combined group performance.  The larger the size of the group, the greater the social loafing effect in it.

Imagine that one person has difficulties in meeting deadlines. Will we increase productivity appointing two specialists to fulfill the task? Will three persons be three times more efficient in this case?

Let’s have a look:

One horse has the ability to pull a carriage equal to its weight multiplied three, what is approximately 1.5 tons, and under the condition of a smooth and even road.  What is the total weight for two, three or six horses to be able to pull? Popular Internet stories of teamwork efficiency say that in this case, two horses are able to pull a six-ton cargo, instead of three tons. The proverbs “two heads are better than one” or “one man is no man” make sense.

We often meet situations where teamwork is more efficient than poor results of individual work. Have you ever observed spontaneous team building to complete the task? Do you think Aristotle was right saying that “Man is by nature a social animal”? Apparently, that’s why we are more efficient working together under one task?

Let’s switch back to the horses again.

According to the research done by the academician B. Goryachkin, scientists have been exploring this field for ages. The loss in pulling power in a pair-horse equine is 6%, in a three-horse equine is 12%, in a four-horse one is 18%, etc. In practice, any loss in pulling power depends on horses size, their ability to pull, speed and even the temperature.  To this end, productivity loss will be increased if there are more horses added.

‘Modern Management Theory’ says that adequate proportion of managers and operators are equal to one supervisor plus six employees. According to the task difficulty, the number of operators might be reduced or increased by two people.  So the key solution to perform effective work is one supervisor per 4-8 operators.  Here we come to the following conclusion: a six-seven people team is as efficient as five operators doing the same staff, plus a supervisor being completely out of service. Five operators can be as efficient as seven. Have a look at the picture by Repin “Barge Haleurs on the Volga”. How many of them are pulling like the clappers? How many are just standing by and not falling down because of the yoke? Only eleven haleurs are really working, others are just struggling to keep their feet.

The team is considered to follow its best player, and it might happen in a burst of emotions. But in every-day reality things go vice versa – the weakest player strikes the keynote, as nobody wants to overwork.

It’s like in complex system calculations when the productivity of the entire system depends on the weakest element.

In post-Soviet states, you can see that “there is always spoiling a wedding for one that is missing”. There’s always an excuse for not working: someone has failed to deliver materials, the electrician hasn’t finished the work in time and that’s why everyone else is staying by and doing nothing… Just to keep the company… Otherwise, it’s so offensive to be working, while others are having a rest. Has anyone ever thought of time management and efficiency helping out the one who has difficulties to finish in time?
In Israel, you can often see a group of people doing each operator’s job in turn but all together.  It’s another variation of not overworking.  The experience of working in Kibbutz has left the mark. It’s equally underwhelmed to be lazy and to work a lot, that’s the reason of collaborating, though productivity remains rather low.

Fred Emery, a psychologist and one of the pioneers in System Dynamics Society presented his Social Systems Theory, suggesting that the very best results should be achieved if the assignment can gather operators together by means of a common task. However, in some cases, they should work on their own.

The theory reflects human necessity to socialize, showing the efficiency of individual work. However, we know that theories are good just in writing. In practice, such conditions are hard to be provided. One task motivates everyone to accomplish it.  Everyone is good in dealing with his/her own task, and the result has nothing to do with productivity and work quality of the others.

Try as they did, psychologists didn’t succeed in bringing the idea of social systems to the level of team’s self-management. The success mostly depends on the supervisor, the ability to manage human resources, to divide a general task into a personal assignment and to supervise the work. This is the only way to get a well-built team in a couple of years.

Jerry Toner dedicated almost the entire chapter in his famous book ‘The Roman Guide to Slave Management’ (it consists of various Roman texts) to the method of choosing and raising professional supervisors.  At Roman Empire times the principle of workflows organization suggested that workers shouldn’t have been motivated via punishment only, there had to be an encouragement, which was the time for rest and a lot of benefits we were using in present. The result depends on personal qualities of the supervisor. He/she should be neither too young, nor too old. Ideally, he should achieve career advancement in the same company, be experienced working in various fields and be familiar with all working scenarios. By this time this person should have shown loyalty to the organization, have demonstrated his ability to fulfill the task. The achievements are not to be based on compliments to executives.

The world is changing fast, so are technologies. Humans almost don’t change.   It’s like in Ancient Roman times. If you want to get a job well done, then you need to show respect to your people. Stay fair encouraging what they do. Be scrupulous appointing supervisors. And the main thing is to understand human nature of every person who works for you.

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