Managerial Solutions for Social Loafing

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Graphical Abstract

It is assumed that working with others in a group has an energizing effect, motivating people to work hard. But this only occurs when collective efforts are rewarded and when people are willing to cooperate with each other. [1] Unfortunately, what is experienced in group work can be completely different, as people are not always willing to do their best. Therefore, they inhibit themselves from making a significant contribution, while remaining unnoticed by the rest of the group. This is known as Social Loafing, which despite having been studied for years, has recently become popular due to the need for organizations to understand underperformance and loss of productivity.

As time goes by, it is increasingly important to focus on a company's human resources, their well-being and the impact this has on a company’s performance. In recent decades, people have become more important for both human and legal reasons, even surpassing the economic benefits that any company may offer. Therefore, managers have found it necessary to strengthen their skills in the psychological field, social skills, and leadership to understand and properly manage their teams to achieve the expected performance.

Effective management is not just about achieving goals, but also about understanding and influencing the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of the people within the organization. [2] This article will therefore focus on the importance that managers and leaders be aware of the contributing factors to Social Loafing and take proactive actions to address it in an organization. It aims to suggest effective models and tools for organizations to implement in order to create a culture of accountability, collaboration, and high performance that supports achieving strategic goals and objectives in projects, programs, and portfolios, suggesting different models and tools for each level of management.

Big Idea

Social loafing has been studied for years, but it was only in the last few decades that it became relevant for managers in organizational settings. Time after the establishment of the concept with the Ringelman Effect. In 1979, Latané, Williams and Harkins proved the notion of social loafing with the saying “Many hands make light the work”, paving the way for multiple research on its causes and consequences in the organizational setting.

They framed the concept in a way that has allowed it to be approached from a different perspective since then, which is, in part, the basis on which this article is written. They defined it as a "social disease" which has evident negative consequences in the social context. It results in a reduction in human efficiency, which leads to lowered profits and lowered benefits for all.[3] Thus, from a managerial perspective, anything that causes a loss of profit needs to be addressed.

As a "disease" related mainly to groups and collective effort, it might seem easy to avoid group work as the most effective "cure", and focus on individual collaborations. However, groups are necessary because they make it possible to achieve a large number of goals that would not be possible if each person worked on their own. Collective action is a vital aspect of our lives. From time immemorial, it has made possible the construction of monuments, and today it is essential for providing even our food and shelter,[3] and develop the most recent technologies. Therefore, the solution or "cure" must be to understand and reorient the group dynamics in such a way that the group promotes a greater sense of individual responsibility rather than diluting it. This represents a great opportunity for managers to apply a range of strategies with great success.

Reduction of social loafing in the organization and increase of group synergy are integral objectives of human resource management, setting high requirements to the quality of managerial solutions.[4] In 2017, a new study was conducted, where the beliefs and behaviours of employees that cause or reduce loafing were analyzed. Focusing on the root cause and recurrence of these sources, they established that the opposite of Social Loafing is Group Synergy and how the level of involvement is key in this context. Two new effects, also supported by Gil in 2004, can then be seen to be important in the process of identifying Social Loafing and are key to the development of management strategies. “Free Riding”, occurs when individuals who have not made appropriate contributions to the task profit from the contributions of other group members and the “Sucker Effect” when individuals decide to reduce their own effort and input to group performance (and hence diminish the reinforcements they could receive) instead of being ‘‘suckers’’ and letting themselves be exploited by "free riders". [1]

Among the findings, in the 2017 study, they developed a framework that includes key action plans for managers on how to avoid Social Loafing and achieve Group Synergy in teams within organizations. Research shows that managers of organizations can be trained in how to deal with the issues of synergy in group activities. [4] According to these studies, it is necessary to have team loyalty, to introduce clear and commonly agreed goals and a long-term perspective to highlight the team members' interdependence and future-oriented efforts, to compare their team with others to stimulate constructive competition, and to create identity by making the team visible to the members and by creating meaningful tasks that the team is proud of.

This framework, together with the suggested ways to reduce or overcome Social Loafing in natural environments, proposed by Karau in 1993 as a result of a meta-analysis, will be the basis of this article to propose the use of different models at each level of management and thus provide a closer and more detailed guide on how managers can deal with this phenomenon by applying managerial solutions in a direct and effective way.

Minimising loafing within an organisation requires an understanding of the underlying causes of this phenomenon and the ways in which managers are directly related to it, as there are high expectations placed on them by organisations. Since this article is primarily based on a managerial approach, the following sections will focus on managers and their performance, and further reading on the causes of social loafing is recommended, as described in the section of the annotated bibliography below.

Group dynamics

Many of the most important tasks in life can only be carried out in a group, and many of them are collective tasks that require the sharing of the contributions of each of its members.[5] As previously mentioned, social loafing has been considered a social "disease" related mainly to groups, and as known, from the people perspective of project management, “Projects are made by people and for people!”, seen as a collection of individuals, with their own identities, expert knowledge, interests, feelings, personalities, friendships, etc.[6] Thus for a manager, understanding the basic concept of a group, how the interaction between its members works, and getting to understand the members themselves is key to leading and managing them. In this way, a manager can achieve a balance between individual and group behaviour, building a team, in order to create a positive working environment in the organisation, by also directing their actions towards achieving expected performance within a project, program or portfolio.

According to Forsyth, some of the definitions of the word group stress the importance of communication or mutual dependence.[7] While others suggest that what turns an individual into a genuine group, is a shared purpose or goal, the majority agree that groups come into existence when people become linked together by some type of relationship.[7] Regardless of the nature of this relationship, a group exists when individuals are connected to one another by some type of social tie. Therefore, Forsyth precisely defines a group as “two or more individuals who are connected by and within social relationships.”

When people are linked by a relationship they become interdependent, for they can influence one another’s thoughts, actions, emotions and outcomes.[7] In an organisational context, these relationships are primarily based on task-related interdependencies and can be either strengthened or weakened according to the degree of affinity and understanding that individuals develop during their time of interaction.

Example of interdependencies among group members. Figure based on references [7]

Because collective work settings are so pervasive and indispensable, it is important to determine which factors motivate and demotivate individuals within these collective contexts.[5] Task interaction includes all group behaviour that is focused primarily on the group’s work, projects, plans, and goals. In most groups, members must coordinate their various skills, resources, and motivations so that the group can make a decision, generate a product or achieve a victory.[7] For both managers and co-workers, it is equally important to know and have clarity about what kind of interdependence is being managed in the organisation. As a result, the group members are able to align their efforts, communicate effectively and work towards shared goals. It allows them to anticipate dependencies, collaborate effectively and make informed decisions to achieve optimal results while encouraging accountability, as members recognise the impact of their work on others and the importance of their contributions to the group's success.

In 1951, a psychologist named Kurt Lewin described group dynamics as a process where groups and individuals act and react to changing circumstances. Later on, Forsyth used this definition as the basis for defining group dynamics as the influential actions, processes, and changes that occur within and between groups.[7]

Organizations exist to provide goods and services that people want, and the amount and quality of these goods and services are products of the behaviours and performance of an organization’s employees.[8] However, the effectiveness of the group activities varies constantly, therefore, unity and synergy are often one of the main tasks of group work organization, which both the heads of the group and the entire organization have to solve.[4] Group synergy is usually the result of positive group dynamics. When team members collaborate in an effective way, they can build on each other's strengths, compensate for each other's weaknesses and generate new ideas and perspectives. Research shows that synergy not only helps to achieve a better result in activities but also motivates employees. On the other hand, negative group dynamics can hinder synergy and lead to social loafing. If team members do not communicate effectively or if there is a lack of trust between them, synergy can be difficult to achieve. The reason for this is that team members may be more focused on their individual contributions than on working together as a team. Negative group dynamics can also lead to conflict and lower motivation among team members, this is where the manager's efforts and skills are crucial in order to find the balance and achieve unity and synergy within the group.


This section outlines the application of management tools to reduce and avoid social loafing at various levels of management within an organisation. Based on the established context, the importance of groups in an organisational environment and the implications of social loafing for managers, an action framework is presented as an incorporation of the different sources linked to the article and the literature associated with the Project Management and Advanced Project, Program and Portfolio Management course. The framework outlines key steps for managers to address social loafing at both individual and group levels. It extends the interrelationship between projects, programs and portfolios defined in ISO 21500, incorporating different management models tailored to each level of management.

Looking ahead, the section aims to provide a comprehensive structure that presents the main ideas of each step to reduce social loafing within each management level (project, program and portfolio). By offering a clearer picture of how to address social loafing, this approach provides managers with practical guidance and helps to ensure that the purpose of each step is applied in a clear and effective way, producing tangible results. The incorporation of specific models for each step is intended to overcome the limitations of the existing studies, which have been primarily focused on non-managerial contexts and often offer ambiguous solutions.

Project Level

  • Roles and Responsibilities
The Nine Belbin Team Roles. Figure based on reference [9]

By suggesting that effective teamwork relies less on qualifications and experience and more on a complementary mixture of interpersonal styles, Meredith Belbin’s original studies introduced an easily-understood framework for analyzing the complex interactions involved in group work and increasing the chances of success in any team endeavour.[9]

"The types of behaviour in which people engage are infinite. But the range of useful behaviours, which make an effective contribution to team performance, is finite. These behaviours are grouped into a set number of related clusters, to which the term 'Team Role' is applied." Meredith Belbin | Team Roles at Work

MODEL: Belbin’s Team role model

The model identifies nine key roles that individuals play within a team. Each role represents a set of strengths, behaviours and contributions that individuals bring to a team, divided into three categories. The model suggests that for a team to function effectively, it needs a balanced combination of these roles.

Social roles

  1. Resource Investigator
  2. Teamworker
  3. Co-ordinator

Thinking roles

  1. Plant
  2. Monitor Evaluator
  3. Specialist

Action or Task roles

  1. Shaper
  2. Implementer
  3. Completer Finisher

BENEFIT: By knowing the strengths and contributions of each team member, managers can assign roles that match individuals' skills and interests. This reduces the likelihood of individuals engaging in social loafing, as they clearly understand their responsibilities and how their contributions contribute to the success of the team. In addition, the model encourages effective teamwork and collaboration by emphasising the need for a balanced mix of roles within the team.

  • Accountability and Goal Setting

MODEL: Personal Accountability Model

The Personal Accountability Model forms the basis of the accountability movement that was started by Mark Samuel in the USA, in 1979 and, in the meantime, this model has also become successful in Latin America and Europe. This model provides insight into what it means to be accountable. How a group member can contribute to their own and their team’s success as an individual. It perfectly reflects what real change brings about.

The model is presented as a road map, composed mainly of two loops, it gives a step-by-step process for avoiding the Victim Loop and stepping onto the Accountability Loop.

The process starts with a situation, based on the “intention”, the person has a “choice”. When taking the Victim Loop, the process would be to ‘ignore’ the situation, ‘deny’ the involvement, and ‘blame’ someone else for the occurrence of the situation. Then the person will ‘rationalize’ and justify why someone else should take care of it and ‘resist’ the possibility of getting involved, and the last action would be to ‘hide’ in order to avoid dealing with the situation. On the other hand, when taking the Accountability Loop the person will start to ‘recognize’ the situation and take ‘ownership’ of facing it. As these situations are mostly challenging the person will then ‘forgive’ anyone who has brought that situation, then will stand in a position to ‘self-examine’ looking for ways of how to contribute to the situation, ‘learn’ and finally ‘take action’ to implement any solution that may arise.[10]

BENEFIT: At an individual level, this model is very important, as it creates a culture of ownership and awareness of members' actions and the impact of individual decisions within the organisational context.

S.M.A.R.T acronym, figure based on reference [11]


In 1981, George T. Doran published a paper arguing about the importance of goals and the challenge of setting them. S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. It is a framework with the criteria to guide in the setting of goals that are assumed to give better results in team performance.

When setting goals they should be:

  1. Specific: target a specific area for improvement. Goals should be clear and specific, clearly stating what needs to be accomplished. They should answer the questions of who, what, where, when, and why.
  2. Measurable: quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress. There should be quantifiable criteria or metrics in place to determine when the goal has been achieved.
  3. Achievable: Goals should be realistic and feasible. They should take into account available resources, skills, and time constraints. Setting goals that are too challenging or unattainable can lead to frustration and demotivation.
  4. Relevant: make sense within the job function. Goals should be relevant and aligned with the broader goals of the individual, team, or organization. They should contribute to the overall success and be meaningful within the given context.
  5. Time-related: specify when the result(s) can be achieved. Goals should have a specific timeframe or deadline attached to them. This helps create a sense of urgency and provides a clear target for completion. Time-bound goals enable effective planning and prioritization.[11]

BENEFIT: This model allows managers to ensure that goals can be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. This increases the likelihood that goals will be achieved and helps people stay focused and motivated throughout the goal-setting process.

  • Team Development

Within an organization the most valuable resource is people, and when working in a team, it is important to have a solid foundation in the relationships that are formed. Therefore, encouraging open communication, respect and support among team members help to create a positive team environment that fosters collaboration and reduces the likelihood of social loafing.

MODEL: Tuckman's stages of team development model

Tuckman's original work simply described the way he had observed groups evolve, whether they were conscious of it or not. [12] He defined a model of five stages that explains that as a team develops maturity and ability, relationships establish, and leadership style changes to more collaborative or shared leadership.

Each of the five phases has different behaviours, thoughts, needs and requirements and are commonly known as:

  1. Forming: the initial stage of putting the structure of the team together.
  2. Storming: interpersonal conflicts arise
  3. Norming: the group develops cohesion.
  4. Performing: individuals adapt to meet the needs of other team members.
  5. Adjourning: the team experience change and transition.

BENEFIT: Understanding Tuckman's Stages of Group Development helps managers actively intervene at each stage to avoid social loafing. This model relates directly to promoting positive group dynamics to achieve group synergy.

  • Decision-Making

When decision-making is effective within an organization, it can help reduce social loafing by creating a sense of responsibility and ownership of individual tasks and objectives. When group members participate in the decision-making process and provide input into the group's goals and objectives, they are more likely to feel invested in the outcome and motivated to contribute to the group's success.*

Star Model by Jay R. Galbraith. Figure based on reference [13]

MODEL: The Star Model

The Star Model™ framework for organization design is the foundation on which a company bases its design choices. The framework consists of a series of design policies that are controllable by management and can influence employee behaviour. [13]

The model was designed by Jay R. Galbraith and it is divided into five categories:

  1. Strategy, which determines direction.
  2. Structure, which determines the location of decision-making power.
  3. Processes, which have to do with the flow of information
  4. Rewards, which influence the motivation of people to perform and address organizational goals.
  5. People (human resource policies), which influence and define the employees’ mindsets and skills.

BENEFIT: The Star Model™ consists of policies that managers can control and that can affect employees’ behaviour, using it to overcome the negatives of any structural design.[13]

Program Level

  • Continuous improvement

Continuous improvement involves a constant effort to improve the different processes, products and services within an organization. When this becomes a focus for organizations, they succeed in creating a culture that values innovation, problem solving and efficiency. And so, when it is possible to involve employees in the success of the team, they are less likely to loaf, because they are motivated to contribute their best effort, knowing that their contributions are valued and appreciated. In addition, continuous improvement efforts can help identify and address the root causes of social loafing, such as unclear expectations, lack of accountability or inadequate training.

MODEL: Maturity Model

Maturity models are simplified representations of an organization’s ability to continuously improve in a specific discipline. It assesses how successfully a company evolves from a particular criteria, enabling the managers to examine a company’s maturity state.

An example of the PM Solutions Project Management Maturity Model is shown in the Figure.

It based on a two-dimensional framework. Both of the dimensions are based on accepted industry standards. The first dimension reflects the level of maturity. The second dimension depicts the key areas of project management addressed. [10]

Levels of Maturity

There are five levels of maturity included in the PM Solutions Project Management Maturity Model.

  1. Level 1: Initial Process
  2. Level 2: Structured Process and Standards
  3. Level 3: Organizational Standards and Institutionalized Process
  4. Level 4: Managed Process
  5. Level 5: Optimizing Process

Key Areas

  1. Project Integration Management
  2. Scope Management: Change Control
  3. Time Management: Schedule Development
  4. Cost Management: Resource Planning
  5. Cost Management: Cost Control
  6. Human Resource Management: Organizational Planning
  7. Communication Management
  8. Risk Management
  9. Procurement Management

BENEFIT: Maturity models allow organisations to better identify opportunities for improvement by identifying current levels, deficiencies and strengths. Clearly defined levels enable self-evaluation and create strategies to encourage growth and performance improvement.

  • Sense of purpose

For people, motivation is crucial when it comes to committing time and effort to a task. So when an employee fails to have a personal connection to the work they are doing, loafing is more likely to occur. This can also be interpreted as a lack of a sense that their contributions are not meaningful. However, when employees understand how their work fits into the big picture and how it helps the organization achieve its goals, they are more likely to feel they have a sense of purpose that is in synergy with their peers and the company and consequently are motivated to do their best work. In addition, a sense of purpose can help create a culture of accountability, a point that connects to goal setting as well.

MODEL: Benefits Realization Management (BRM)

Benefits realization management (BRM) provides organizations with a way to measure how projects and programs add true value to the enterprise. (CITA BRM) The BRM Framework has been developed by the Project Management Institute to help organisations to manage and deliver project benefits effectively. It provides a series of guidelines and best practices that can be used by project, programme and portfolio management practitioners and leaders. The framework serves as a guiding tool for identifying, analysing, delivering and sustaining benefits that are aligned with the organisation's strategic goals and objectives.

It is divided into three simple phases:

  1. Identify: A look at the practices performed at the start of a project or program that enable organizations to identify expected benefits.
  2. Execute: A look at practices that enable organizations to deliver the expected benefits.
  3. Sustain: A look at the practices that enable organizations to sustain benefits and achieve strategic objectives

BENEFIT: The BRM framework focuses on continuous monitoring and tracking of benefits throughout the project lifecycle. Managers can use this to evaluate individual and team performance on a regular basis, detect any signs of social loafing and address them promptly.

Portfolio Level

  • Monitor Performance

In any organization, performance monitoring is important to reduce social loafing, as it allows tracking both individual and team progress, identifying areas where improvement is needed and keeping employees accountable for their contributions. It can also help to identify areas where additional support or training may be needed, for example, if a team member is not performing as expected and is performing below their potential, it is possible to identify them early and provide the support needed to improve their performance by providing support rather than judgement. It can also help managers to recognize and reward high-performing employees, which can create a positive and competitive work environment. This can motivate employees to strive for excellence and thereby improve the company's performance.

MODEL: Balanced Scorecard Model (BSC)

Senior executives understand that their organization’s measurement system strongly affects the behaviour of managers and employees. The balanced scorecard allows managers to look at the business from four important perspectives. [14]

The Balanced Scorecard has two fundamental objectives. First, it unifies various components of a company's competitive agenda into a comprehensive management report, such as customer orientation, response time, quality improvement, teamwork, product release efficiency and long-term management. Second, it avoids sub-optimisation by allowing senior management to assess the impact of improvements in one area on other important operational measures.

BENEFIT: The overall benefit is that by considering all the important measures together, the balanced scorecard provides a holistic view of organisational performance, allowing managers to take action in a realistic and global approach.


Although it is not directly named in the standards, Social Loafing is implicit as a consequence of poor practice at an organisational level. Social loafing is a phenomenon that normally occurs within the work group context and may not be visible to managers who do not proactively observe team performance. While it can be difficult to identify, its consequences are very noticeable and can generate huge losses at an organizational level, not only economically but also at a social level. As difficult as it is to identify, addressing it can be equally complex because when the strategy is implemented in a corrective rather than preventive way, the measures taken by managers can be negatively accepted by team members, causing a reverse-productive effect. Social loafing can be a symptom of larger organizational problems, such as poor communication, unclear expectations, or lack of motivation, which may require more significant changes to address. Among its limitations is the fact that most of the studies conducted have been done in physical, non-cognitive, and non-managerial contexts, so more accurate results on this phenomenon are lacking. Moreover, for as long as this phenomenon has been studied, there have been debates about the importance and depth it deserves in relation to human behaviour. Many thought that group dynamics was a private matter, not something that scientists should expose to public scrutiny. Others thought that human behaviour was too complex to be studied scientifically and that this complexity was greatly magnified when groups of interacting individuals became the object of interest. Still, others thought that the causes of group behaviour were so obvious that they did not merit scientific attention.[7]

Annotated Bibliography

  1. Gil, F. (n.d.). Social Loafing.: This article is a good first approach to the concept, as it provides a comprehensive, complete and very easy-to-understand overview when first reading about the phenomenon of social loafing. It provides important concepts to understand how it arises, its history and its relationship within the organisational context.
  2. Latane, B., Williams, K., & Harkins, S. (1979). Many Hands Make Light the Work: The Causes and Consequences of Social Loafing. : After the discovery of social loafing, this study is one of the best approaches to testing the theory established by the Ringelman effect. There are two experiments that prove how this phenomenon applies in a different context than the one in which it was discovered. They added two experiments related to sound emission to the original rope experiment. Both the experiments and the results are interesting to analyse and reflect on as they relate and apply to the organisational context.
  3. Karau, S. J., & Williams, K. D. (1993). Social loafing: A meta-analytic review and theoretical integration. : Following in chronological order the study of the phenomenon of social loafing, this meta-analysis studies the causes that generate it, based on the study made by Latané in 1979. It integrates the theory of social impact and briefly proposes points of action to reduce and eliminate social loafing within work groups.
  4. Managerial Solutions that Increase the Effect of Group Synergy and Reduce Social Loafing. Vveinhardt, J., & Banikonytė, J. (2017).: Among all the references related to this topic, this article provides solutions directly related to the organisational context. It is interesting how the analysis is structured and the results of the studies with people, through interviews and feedback of the executed plans, under the perception of real employees, within real work contexts.
  5. Forsyth, D. R. (2014). Group Dynamics and George, J. M., & Jones, G. R. (2012). Understanding and Managing Organizational Behavior: In relation to the study of organizational behaviour, these two books provide a complete explanation of the importance of human behaviour within an organization, group dynamics, interdependence between members and the process that must be carried out as a team to meet the organisational objectives.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Social Loafing. Gil, Francisco. (2004). Encyclopedia of Applied Psychology, 3.
  2. Greenberg, J., & Baron, R. A. (2008). Behavior in organizations: Understanding and managing the human side of work. Prentice Hall.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Latane, B., Williams, K., & Harkins, S. (1979). Many Hands Make Light the Work: The Causes and Consequences of Social Loafing. *Journal of Personality and Social Psychology*, *37*(6), 822–832.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Managerial Solutions that Increase the Effect of Group Synergy and Reduce Social Loafing. Vveinhardt, J., & Banikonytė, J. (2017). Management of Organizations: Systematic Research, 78(1), 109–129.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Karau, S. J., & Williams, K. D. (1993). Social loafing: A meta-analytic review and theoretical integration. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
  6. ProjectLab. Our perspectives - Doing projects, from
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 Forsyth, D. R. (2014). Group Dynamics (Sixth). University of Richmond, from
  8. George, J. M., & Jones, G. R. (2012). Understanding and Managing Organizational Behavior. Pearson Education, 6th Edition.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Belbin, R. M. (2011). Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail (3rd ed.). *Human Resource Management International Digest*, *19*(3), 171–175."
  10. 10.0 10.1 Samuel, M. (2012). *Making yourself indispensable : the power of personal accountability*.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Doran, G. T. (1981). "There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management's goals and objectives". *Management Review*. **70** (11): 35–36
  12. Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development - WCU of PA. West Chester University, from
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Galbraith, J. R. (n.d.). THE STAR MODELTM.
  14. Kaplan, R. S., Norton, D. P. The Balanced Scorecard—Measures that Drive Performance"
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