Janet Walkow Christine Jacobs

Social Loafing

…does it lead to personal loafing?


The other day I received an email that was addressed to 3 other family members, asking for an opinion on which of 4 places we should stay when on our next vacation. I typically take the lead in planning vacations, but decided a few months ago that I would leave all the major decisions up to the others. So, I didn’t answer to the email, assuming that someone else would have a preference and send a response. A few days later I was talking to my daughter, who studies engineering psychology, asking if there is a term for this sort of group, non-response behavior. In fact there is, it’s called social loafing. When people are part of a group, they tend to put forth less individual effort.

I exemplified social loafing by not weighing in on the question put forth in the email. In retrospect, I often send individual emails on the same topic to people when I know I want a response – but, I was unaware of the social loafing notion.

Something New – Personal Loafing

For whatever reason, I became fixed on the concept, and started thinking about how social loafing occurs outside of group situations on a more personal level. While there may not be a formal psychological term, I’m calling it PERSONAL LOAFING. When people aren’t forced into taking individual action, they tend to cede control of themselves. If you’ve ever watched an episode of “Seinfeld”, you’re familiar with George Costanza, Jerry’s neurotic friend who sometimes lives with his parents. George is the poster person for personal loafing – someone who thrives on others taking care of him (parents), making decisions for them (Jerry) and just letting things happen to him. I always found it hard to feel sorry for him, as he cedes control of his life and constantly makes bad decisions or makes them for the wrong reason.

Taking Responsibility

There are times when it’s nice to be mothered, but as we move into adulthood, we need to claim ourselves and take responsibility.  While I was in college, I worked part time as a travel agent and am passionate about traveling to this day. I’ll confess that I likely encourage social loafing by being more than willing to plan trips I take with my family and friends. My avoidance of personal loafing may unintentionally trigger it in those around me. Being aware of this, I am encouraging those around me to be responsible for some portion of the planning.

For the most part, I’m not a significant social loafer, but at least I understand why we all have that tendency. I am an ardent advocate of people being intentional and self-reliant, two elements of self-leadership. We all need to work on reducing personal loafing. It’s okay to take care of others, as long as you take care of yourself.

Janet Walkow is the Executive Director and Chief Technology Officer of the Drug Dynamics Institute at The University of Texas and a co-founder of Leading Women. Read her full bio.

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