How to Light a Fire Under a Slacker

Psychologists have known for a long time that as the size of a group of workers increases, overall performance decreases. Coincidentally (or not), there is the phenomenon of the Slacker. Social scientists call this behavior “social loafing” or “free riding,” and it’s widespread. You might even say that if you don’t know who the Slacker is in a group, maybe it’s you.

Fortunately, researchers from Clemson University and the University of Toledo in Ohio had a few suggestions to light a fire under the Slacker:

Stress the importance of the group’s goals. Consider inviting a beneficiary of the group effort to speak to the group, says Adam Grant of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, who addresses the subject in his book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success.

Quantify what everybody else in the group is doing. That way, group members can compare what they’re doing—in case the Slackers don’t realize they’re lagging behind others.

Make the group smaller. In fact, that’s how a researcher increased group productivity in a 1913 study.

Highlight individual efforts. When possible, attach names to the group’s efforts. Make it clear who’s doing the work and give credit.

Emphasize individual contributions. Don’t just throw an assignment out there for the group to accomplish.

Strengthen relationships in the group. Slackers don’t goof off nearly as much when they know the other group members personally.

Ask the Slacker directly how to improve group productivity. Even if the question doesn’t motivate him, at least you’ll have a new perspective.


Betsy Simnacher is a freelance writer who has been published in numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. She lives in the suburbs of Dallas.

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