Social loafing is the tendency for people in work groups to exert less effort than if they worked individually. It is culturally specific and more likely to occur in individualistic cultures such as the United States than in collectivistic cultures such as China.
Social loafing can have a significant effect within a production environment such as the oil and gas sector where the main objective is to maximise overall production.
There is little doubt that in certain group situations at work, people can lose their sense of personal responsibility and become a social loafer. This would be especially true in an environment where group targets for production are set and little attention is paid to the actual output produced by individuals. The more people that you have in a group, the less pressure there is on any one person to perform. This would be an ideal setting for a social loafer.
If an individual feels that the workload is divided amongst many and with it the rewards that can be gained, he/she will work less hard in groups.
There is also the risk of poor performance and lower quality of product when social loafing is prevalent.
A solution to this problem would be to increase people’s self-awareness and reduce de-individuation by making each person within the group positively contribute and make all members dependant on each other for final production. The formation of smaller groups within the working environment can also lead to increased production and less social loafing.
A health and safety committee meeting should, ideally, comprise a group of individuals who have expressed an interest in the subject matter and therefore have chosen to participate. This however does not guarantee effective participation by all attendees and a degree of social loafing can unfortunately be expected.
A common feature of many health and safety committees is the fact that most of the workload tends to be undertaken by a few dedicated members and this is especially true of large committees. This allows for easy social loafing with some members having the benefit of a ‘free ride’ on the committee.
If social loafing is allowed to continue within a committee setting, the objectives of the committee become ever increasingly difficult to achieve and individual members will lose interest if they feel that they are not contributing. The few members who are doing most of the work will also eventually realise this and will either relish the opportunity to force their will on the group or alternatively become disillusioned and resign.
A common sign of social loafing within a health and safety committee is when you notice that it is the same members who bring agenda items to every meeting and these same members are the first to volunteer to take on any subsequent action points.
The chairman should ensure all members contribute and should not allow members to just turn up and do nothing.
A programme of work for the committee should be communicated within the organisation and each member should be given specific ownership of part of this.
The Chairman should ensure the workload for the committee is challenging, appealing and involves all members, as this will reduce the likelihood of social loafing.