Social Loafing: More is Less When It Comes to Work


“Many hands make light work.” — John Heywood

Except when they don’t.

Is there really strength in numbers?

Not according to social loafing.  The more people there are, the less hard they work.

In Social Psychology: Theories, Research, and Applications,  Robert S. Feldman writes about social loafing.

People are Apt to Work Less Hard in Groups

Feldman writes that people work less hard in groups because of reduced social pressure.

Via Social Psychology:

“Bibb Latane (1981) suggests that these results are indicative of a phenomenon known as social loafing.  Social loafing occurs during a shared group activity when there is a decrease in individual effort due to the social pressure of other persons. 

It happens because social pressure to perform is, in a sense, dissipated by the presence of others; an individual feels as if the pressure is shared by the other people.  Hence, people are apt to work less hard in groups due to the perception of reduced social pressure to produce.”

More is Less

Feldman writes that the more people there are, the less hard they pull.

Via Social Psychology:

“The results were unequivocal: the more people pulling, the less hard the average individual pulled.  When alone, the subjects averaged a pulling strength of 63 kilograms, but this average fell to 53 kilograms with two co-pullers and only 31 kilograms per person with groups of eight.”

Why Does Social Loafing Occur

 According to Feldman, there’s a few reasons why social loafing occurs.

Via Social Psychology:

  1. People perceive that others in a group are less motivated or less skillful than themselves, and this leads them to reduce their own output.
  2. Social loafing may be caused by participants choosing goals that are less ambitious when others were present working under the assumption that the task will be easier when others are involved.  With lower goals, you expect less effort.
  3. Individuals feel that their own efforts are less closely linked to any potential outcomes in a group setting than when they are alone.

How to Combat Social Loafing

How do you reduce the possibility of social loafing in collective situations?    Feldman writes that you need to make individuals feel responsible for the group’s performance.

Via Social Psychology:

“The most obvious solution is to structure group situations so that reach group member feels personally responsible for the outcomes of the group as a whole. 

One specific technique would be to promote group norms that emphasize the individual’s contribution to group performance.”

Key Take Aways

Here are my key take aways:

  • Social loafing happens when people think that the rest of the group isn’t pulling their weight.
  • If you think others are less skilled or less motivated, you’ll work less hard.
  • Make individuals feel responsible for the group’s results.

More is less when there is Social Loafing in action.

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Photo by kjarrett.


  1. Interesting! Thinking about my own experience, I agree. The solution of promoting group norms that emphasize the individual’s contribution to group performance makes a lot of sense.

  2. Hey Vered

    It helped confirm what I thought to be true. I remember team projects in school where a few people did the work, while the rest hitched a ride.

  3. There are many good lessons in this post. My question…just how do you make individuals feel responsible for the group’s results?

  4. Hey Stacey

    Thanks and great question. The three ways that I found most effective are:
    1. Who’s doing what when list. This let’s everybody know who’s on point.
    2. Show and tell. Each person presents their work to the group on a weekly basis.
    3. Feedback to individuals that fail the team. This is as simple as letting somebody know the impact of their actions on other members or team results. It’s prefer to do this one-on-one.

    Hope that helps!

  5. When I used to do these large wedding set-ups, I would schedule a large crew. I stopped doing this however, because it seemed like it took a crew of six more time than a crew of three. Social loafing indeed.

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