When a group as opposed to an individual is responsible for a job or task, and as a result the task does not get performed because everyone assumes that someone else will do it.

Is there a word or phrase to describe this?

5 Answers 5


The term I've heard in the workplace is diffusion of responsibility:

Diffusion of responsibility is a tendency of individuals in large groups to avoid taking action to correct a problem because they assume someone else will.


The proverb I've heard for this is everybody's business is nobody's business. See here for more.


Apparently not as common as I'd thought (less than 100 written instances using it as a noun phrase), the first term that came to mind was dissipated responsibility.

  • Dissipated responsibility sounds like me after a drink or three.
    – Gnawme
    Commented Nov 23, 2011 at 21:46
  • I did check thefreedictionary when I posted this. Before that I'd never known their first definition... 1 - Intemperate in the pursuit of pleasure; dissolute. 2 - Wasted or squandered. 3 - Irreversibly lost [energy]. To be honest, I always assumed dissipated heat was simply heat spread out so it wasn't in a single hot spot that might burn you. I'd never thought of it in terms of "irretrievably lost heat". But I guess for me the boozy associations were already colonised by dissolute. Commented Nov 23, 2011 at 21:58

This is a form of diffusion of responsibility.


Inertia of the masses.

BTW that gets 1.26M hits on Google as an exact phrase - thanks to the wry physics reference methinks.

  • 1
    Physics as in "a crowd at rest tends to stay in the pub"?
    – Gnawme
    Commented Nov 24, 2011 at 2:28
  • Surely "a mass of people at rest ..." or does that make me a pendant?
    – MrTelly
    Commented Dec 7, 2011 at 11:21

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.