Social Loafing and Ringelmann's Rope-Pulling Experiments | Fresh Hr

Social loafing describes the tendency of individuals to put forth less effort when they are part of a group. Because all members of the group are pooling their effort to achieve a common goal, each member of the group contributes less than they would if they were individually responsible[1]

Ringelmann’s Rope-Pulling Experiments

A French agricultural engineer named Max Ringelmann conducted one of the earliest experiments on the Social Loafing phenomenon in 1913. In his research, he asked participants to pull on a rope both individually and in groups.

What he discovered that when people were part of a group, they made less of an effort to pull the rope than they did when working individually.

But what happens when you are no longer in the group and instead of working remotely at home with no-one to poll your efforts with?

The very real reality that we are now faced with and for employers, this also brings the BIG question on many employers’ minds as they no-longer have the visual indicator of work – “how do I know that my team is completing their hours?”

When we think about the social loafing one of the things that Psychologists have come up with as the explanation is Motivation. Employees who overall are less motivated are more likely to partake in “social loafing” – well that’s in a group setting but how does that motivation stack up when you are working from home, possibly in self-isolation with minimal interaction with others? Does it still exist – well yes it does!

What can counteract this is the fact that in a group those that are prone to social loafing no-longer have a feeling of less personal accountability – there is no longer other people’s efforts to hide behind and when we send information electronically it has our own individual footprints. Where once their lack of effort may have gone unnoticed and had little impact on the outcomes they now will be standing out on their own and highlighted. Or do they?

In an article by Forbes March 2020 – It was suggested that “Just because your team is suddenly remote and may only be so for a relatively short period, you shouldn’t ignore passive-aggressive social loafing. If left unchecked, it will destroy the morale and productivity of even the best team

The nature of working from home is that you cannot keep an eye on everyone and the efforts that they may (or may not) be putting in. Afterall in the office, you can see who the early starters and late finishes are and who’s always got their head down – not when you are limited to virtual catch-ups. Social Loafing can quietly fall into the virtual background of not called out. You will also get to know about workplace policies and procedures.

When we look at what Psychologists set out for prevention of Social Loafing, they advise the following;

  • establish individual accountability;
  • develop standards and rules;
  • define tasks clearly;
  • assign responsibilities;
  • evaluate personal progress, and
  • highlight the achievements of individual members.

Now lets for a moment look at the working from home effectiveness suggested guides. (we wrote a blog about this in March – read it here) as employers you can easily set these in place with open communication as the first one is – Know the ground rules – here are some areas to set out first and foremost

  • Does your employer require a nine-to-five schedule, or is there flexibility?
  • Which tech tools might you need, such as Zoom for video conferencing, Slack or Microsoft Teams for group chats, or Trello for project management?

It’s really important as an employer that you set out the ground rules and ensure you have the appropriate equipment for the teams, such as a laptop, as well as network access available for the employee – so they can get into their work  –  and you will also need to ensure that you have given them the heads up on the Workplace Health and Safety as employers STILL have that obligation when employees are working from home.

Not all employees will have a dedicated space, but you do need to have clearly established policies and procedures for working from home, flexibility, and ergonomics. Get them to fill in a Working from the Home checklist and send it back, signed with a photo of the space they will be working in. You need to ensure that loafing about on the sofa in front of the TV is not happening and clearly not an acceptable working environment and may cause more harm than good. You can grab our fact sheet and info HERE for working from home during COVOD-19.

Be sure to do trial runs and work out any problems that might impede workflow – obviously at the speed of adaption in the current COVID-19 situation it has not always been easy to do trial runs but you just need to be adaptable and patient.

You will also need to up the ante on the social interactions with the teams as being at home and be very isolating especially when you are used to being in the hustle and bustle of an office environment. Some employees love the thought of working in solitude, but even the most introverted among us can start feeling a little claustrophobic after a few weeks at home, alone, staring at the same project for long hours. It can get lonely. Be ready for that and try to schedule some connect-with-the-outside-world time. What about a staff “virtual’ lunch date, a video conference setting out new developments at work and a social Friday afternoon “virtual drinks”? You can even have some fun with this as what about a fancy dress – who said that being remote means being boring after all.

With so much happening and so quickly as we navigate the world of COVID-19, we can become overwhelmed. Add to this mixing pot of uncertainty an employee who is sitting in fear and the unknown which is never a good combination for irrational thought patterns. Protect yourself from an opportunist attempt at unfair dismissal claims or worse by seeking advice and avoiding acting in haste.

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[1] https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-social-loafing-2795883