Mar. 24, 1999 Writer: Kristen Vecellio
Source: James Shepperd -- (352) 392-0601 ext. 248; email@example.com
GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- It's a familiar scenario: A project starts out as a group effort but quickly becomes the burden of a few diligent souls who do their share and carry the load for the other slackers as well.
Now, put-upon eager beavers of the world can take heart in a new University of Florida study that says to even out the work load, stop suffering in silence and offer those loafers the right reward.
"People hate being the sucker for others and they hate being exploited," said James Shepperd, UF psychology professor. "Inevitably you have some people who do all the work."
The study, led by Shepperd, will appear in the August issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Shepperd's research is beneficial to solving the issues of free-loaders among work groups. The model has everyday applications, from managers getting employees to work hard and teachers getting more effort from students to public radio getting more contributions from listeners.
Shepperd developed a theoretic model to understand why people in groups loaf and what can be done about it. The model draws from expectancy-value theory, a psychology theory from the 1920s that originally was designed to explain goal-directed efforts.
He said people will work hard in groups provided three conditions are met. First, people must perceive that their hard work will lead to a good performance. For example, if a group is presenting ideas to a new client, the group must feel their efforts will produce a well-crafted presentation.
Second, people must perceive that a good performance will be rewarded. For instance, the group must believe that if they produce a good presentation, they will win a favorable reaction from the client.
Finally, the group must value the reward that is attached to a good performance. The reward must surpass the costs associated with achieving a good group performance. Back to the presentation, if the client has the potential to create a million-dollar account for the group, then the value is high and the group will work harder on the presentation. If the potential client created only a $100 account, the value may be less, and the group would put less effort into the presentation.
Shepperd said if one or more of the conditions is not met, then some group members may become the dead weight eager beavers fear and loathe.
Shepperd tested his model in two experiments. The first experiment varied the likelihood that high effort would produce a good group performance. Groups of college students were asked to create as many uses as they could for a knife.
Based on prior practice trials, group members believed either that it was likely or unlikely that their group would perform well enough at the task to receive a reward -- a certificate for free pizza. Shepperd found that group members worked hard only if they believed that their group could produce a good performance. If they believed their group wasn't up to the task, they loafed.
In other words, he said, "If there's no contingency between my efforts and the group's performance, then why should I bother?"
The second experiment varied the likelihood that a good group performance would be rewarded. Groups of college students again generated uses for a knife, but believed that there was either a high or low probability that groups that performed well would receive free pizza.
Shepperd found that group members worked hard only if there was a good chance their group would receive free pizza. If the chances were low, group members loafed.
The bottom line: People work hard when they believe that high effort will produce a good performance, and that performance is likely to be rewarded.
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