How To Prevent Laziness And Free Riders On Big Group Projects

In 1913, French professor of agricultural engineering Max Ringelmann asked a group of men to pull on a rope as individuals and as part of a group.

If you’ve ever been on a large group project, you might not be surprised to learn that the men exerted less effort when pulling the rope as part of a group than when pulling alone. In fact, the larger the group, the less effort each man contributed.

 Here are the results of this experiment as shown in a great chart from Wikipedia:


To prove conclusively that this phenomenon is a result of “social loafing” (individuals exerting less effort in a group) rather than just poor group coordination, researcher Alan Ingham blindfolded his participants, telling some of them that they are pulling the rope on their own and others that they are pulling as part of the group. In reality, all the participants were pulling the rope on their own. Participants who thought they were part of the group exerted 20% less effort than those who thought they were pulling alone!

A meta-analysis of 70-seven studies on social loafing by researchers Steven Karau and Kipling Williams in 1993 concluded that social loafing is a reliable phenomenon, displayed across numerous collective tasks and in countries around the world.

Social Loafing In Business

The bigger the company, the easier it is for an employee to hide his or her individual work. Unfortunately, the presence of free riders in the group (either perceived or actual), results in high-performing individuals scaling down their own effort. After all, nobody wants to be the “sucker” who does all the work while everyone else goofs off. If everyone in the group tries to avoid being the sucker, it results in bad group performance.

As social loafing and the sucker effect become part of your company’s culture, it will only decrease everyone’s productivity. Executives might try to change the company culture to reward productivity, but that is only a temporary fix. A business is only as productive as it’s weakest link.

The Numbers

In the 1960s, scientist Derek De Solla Price analysed the publishing of scientific papers and came up with a law that essentially quantifies social loafing. He found that roughly the square root of the number of people in an organisation are responsible for 50% of the work.

Thus, as a group gets larger, exponentially less people do half of the work! Here is what this means for your business:


Here is the same data visualized:


Just think of the implications! With no social loafers and sucker effect:

1. A startup or very small business of nine employees can perform at the level of a 40 person organisation.
2. A small business with 100 employees can perform comparably with a typical 5,000 person business.
3. A mid-sized business can outperform a large enterprise corporation, with an output comparable to a typical 125,000 person organisation!

Can you afford to hire social loafers?!

How To Prevent Social Loafing

Social loafing is less likely to occur when one of the following conditions is present in your organizational culture:

1. Employees believe their individual performance can be identified and evaluated.
2. Employees feel that their work is important and meaningful.
3. Employees believe that their contribution is necessary for a successful outcome.
4. Working in your organisation is valuable and important to employees, and individual employees like each other.

However, the data is clear, if you really want to keep your business performing at maximum capacity, you just cannot hire social loafers!‘s hiring assessment does a great job of weeding out the free loaders, who score low on conscientiousness and intelligence.

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