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The Social Loafer Phenomenon

As a clinical manager for many years, one thing I learned was when we were short staffed, we operated in lock step, effective, got the work done and we were efficient about it - Everything just seemed to work great! When we had more staff than we needed was when problems started happening. There would be complaints about how one person was not pulling their weight, patient treatments started late, and too many people were spending too much time away from the clinical floor. The common excuse..."I thought [insert name] was taking care of it.", or "there were 4 other people to do it, I didn't think it was my responsibility."

As I extend my awareness of such phenomenon, I see it happening in almost every industry I encounter. The "Social Loafer" is a concerning dynamic and is an unfortunate aspect in any team setting. What we know is this...a persons behavior will become more risky when in a larger group setting. When the risk of being called out or identified is low, the social loafer will take more chances or act in a more risky manner. When the risk of being caught or called out is high, the social loafer will avoid it. When you want the most efficient use of your team members, give distinct attention to staffing ratios - there is a very delicate balance.

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