The prevalence and magnitude of social loafing in an organisational setting.
Organising people into groups or teams should theoretically result in synergistic effects and optimal performance. People should be more productive, further motivated and exert additional effort and input when working collectively rather than individually. However, research conducted in parts of America, Europe and Asia has found that when people work collaboratively in groups or teams they actually exert less effort than they ought to, or “loaf”, resulting in process losses for teams or groups and reduced productivity gains for organisations. "Social loafing” describes the phenomenon where individuals exert less effort when working collectively than when working independently. This calls into question the wisdom of using groups and teams to enhance productivity. South Africa is facing embattled economic times, which require improved efficiencies and increased productivity. It is in this context that this study reviews established literature on groups, teams and social loafing; investigates the prevalence and magnitude of social loafing in an organisational setting; identifies those dimensions (perceived co-worker loafing, nature of tasks, visibility of contribution, size of the group, individual outcomes and rewards, and group cohesiveness) that impact upon and moderate the prevalence and magnitude of social loafing; determines the extent to which these dimensions are a factor in influencing social loafing; and reveals significant intercorrelations amongst the dimensions of perceived social loafing. The study also evaluates whether there are significant differences in the perceptions of social loafing amongst employees according to biographical factors (gender, age, marital status, length of service, status in group, and status of post). Finally, the analysis, interpretation and discussion of the study results generates a framework that indicates the influence of key dimensions on the prevalence and magnitude of social loafing and advocates practical interventions to reduce social loafing. The findings of the study show that individuals tend to engage in social loafing when working in groups or teams. Social loafing appears to be moderate in magnitude and generalizable across tasks.