The chances are you’ve experienced “social loafing” – you know when you walk around the factory, you sometimes get the feeling that that things are running slowly? The guy with the clipboard seems suspect… Well, you may be onto something. There could be more “social loafing” happening than you think possible. 

What is Social Loafing?

Rolf Dobelli in his book “The Art of Thinking Clearly” has a chapter titled “Why teams are Lazy”, in which he explains the concept of “Social Loafing”.

The article references a study done in 1913 by Maximilian Ringelmann, a French engineer. In the study it was found that when eight or more people were employed, the effort of individuals in the group fell to 49% of individuals measured separately. This reduction in effort, both physical and mental, has been named as “Social Loafing” or the “Ringelmann effect”.

Translated, if you have a group of workers, some of them are likely to be slacking at any point in time and some a lot more than others. That guy with the clipboard…

What do you do about social loafing?

Various approaches are suggested to reduce the effect of social loafing. One is to make an individual’s effort more identifiable using activity tracking.

The other point raised is that even if you increase effort, the result could still be poor unless you have also addressed co-ordination.

Employee Activity Tracking

In my experience, employee activity tracking is unusual and is often limited to site entrance and exit. Yet the benefit to the company in increased productivity, if social loafing can be minimised, can be substantial.

Historical event recording is the norm in most systems. We define this as “tell me how long you think you took”. Everybody works the correct number of hours. Strange that.

We sometimes see companies trying to capture employee activities via machine-based recording mechanisms e.g. PLCs. Again, sometimes this is effective and other times not. Also, while tracking is easy to implement, it is often difficult to build into the activity culture of the company as it is resisted by unions and employees.

Combatting this doesn’t have to be difficult, however. Again, in my experience, one of the most effective ways to change company culture and to habitualise employee conformance is to visualise recorded detail, reviewing it daily and acting on deviations. See the example below.

Here colours have meaning!

Co-ordination

To talk about employee co-ordination, we need to talk about Tracking’s siamese twin: Production Scheduling. Without tracking, scheduling dies and without scheduling tracking eventually dies as there is often no use for the data. Honestly, nobody really cares about accurate costing.

Now when you walk around the factory, think about social loafing and how this could be reduced by implementing a tracking and scheduling solution.

For those interested, you can read more about the subject here.