What Is a Goldbricker?

A goldbricker is a person who gets paid a wage, or salary, for work that is not done, despite the appearance of being industrious. Thus, an employee who seems to be hard at work, but is really tending to personal matters, would be a goldbricker.

In the investing sense, goldbrick or goldbrick shares refers to owning stock in a company that appears to be worth more than it really is.

Key Takeaways

  • A goldbricker is a person getting paid for work not actually done, despite giving an industrious appearance. 
  • Goldbricking today most often refers to employees who goof off on the job: They use company time to scour the internet, chat or text, or perform personal tasks.
  • The increased use of internet-based applications and the rise of social media have both facilitated goldbricking, aka cyberloafing or cyberslacking.
  • In the United States, goldbricking is estimated to cost companies billions of dollars a year.
  • To handle goldbrickers effectively, companies should set clear rules; but they should also focus not on managing employee time, but on employee goals.

Understanding a Goldbricker

The term "goldbricking" originates from the unethical practice of coating bricks with gold plates, to pass them off as solid gold (hiding the cheap metal they were actually made of). So. at first, it referred to outright fraud. By the turn of the 20th century, the meaning had expanded to be something or someone deceptive.

In World War I, incompetent U.S. Army officers appointed from civilian life with only minimal training were called "gold bricks" by enlisted men (possibly inspired by the gold rectangle that signified the rank of second lieutenant).

Goldbricking in the modern sense of malingering developed around the time of World War II, in the U.S. Army. The term was extended to refer to anybody not pulling his weight—a loafer who gives the appearance of working without actually accomplishing much (presumably, they'd do anything, including sell fake gold bricks, rather than an honest day’s work). After the war, "goldbricking" and "goldbricker" started getting applied in civilian life as well.

Goldbricking today most often refers to employees who goof off on the job: They use company time to scour the internet, chat or text, or perform other personal tasks. Unproductive workers add to a business' expenses. Companies that use independent contractors in hopes of boosting production must remain vigilant to avoid overpaying for the work completed.

However, business is not the only victim of the goldbricker; they can exist in any field or profession.

Cyber-Slacking Is Goldbricking

In the United States, goldbricking is estimated to cost companies billions of dollars a year. A survey by found that 2,112 of the total 3,200 respondents confessed to wasting time at work. Internet use, sometimes called cyber-slacking or cyber-loafing, was the leading goldbrickers activity in the workplace. Employees cited the lack of challenging work, long hours, and the absence of incentives as the main reasons for their goldbricking.

The boon in social networking sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and texting has contributed to and facilitated goldbricking habits—as has the increasing use of computers in most office jobs. Workers who want to socialize on the job no longer need to stand around the water cooler or pick up the phone. They go online to chat or text, and only by peering over their shoulders at their screens can a boss or manager tell they're not actually engaged in professional tasks.

The rise in telecommuting and work-at-home arrangements has also increased the potential for goldbricking.

Corporate Pushback

Goldbricking has become such a serious issue that it is impacting labor and societal dynamics. Companies have tried to combat it in various ways. Some firms installed on office computers surveillance software that can monitor employee internet searches or proxy servers that block social media and other websites.

Others made efforts to keep employees under the eye throughout the 2010s. Yahoo announced it would prohibit telecommuting, citing productivity issues as it found remote employees were not logging into the company servers as often as office-based workers. Aetna, Best Buy, and IBM also pulled many of their remote employees back into the workplace, citing the lack of collaboration skills as the rationale.

The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 upset such efforts, as remote or at-home work became a necessity. Some firms installed surveillance software on employees' home computers that attempt to clock time spent working. But it's an imperfect measure (as someone could be logged out, but actually working—or vice versa), and has raised invasion-of-privacy issues as well. Besides, the ubiquity of smartphones has complicated restriction efforts, since employees can browse cyberspace on their own devices.

How to Manage Goldbrickers

How can companies best deal with goldbrickers? The first step is to be realistic. People are not machines that can work for eight hours straight. Whether performing physical or mental tasks, they need breaks and distractions. So, schedules, timetables, and output demands need to accommodate downtime, which can be as important to productivity as active work. Relaxation (within reason) needs to be recognized not as exploitative loafing, but as necessary rebooting—the "pause that refreshes."

Also, conscientiousness is a two-way street. If employers want workers to respect the company's time, they should not waste the worker's time either. Practices like frequent mandatory meetings or mounds of reports and paperwork should be examined and streamlined for maximum efficacy. If employees feel management respects their time and effort, they might be less likely to "get back" at management by goofing off or doing as little as possible.

Establishing concrete rules and performance measures can help. But, given the rise of remote work, employers also have to realize that managing people’s time is old-fashioned. The focus needs to be on managing goals. Along with setting clear priorities and expectations, it's also important to communicate them to all personnel, if you want to keep goldbricking behavior in check.

Can a Small Amount of Goldbricking Improve Overall Productivity?

Yes, research has shown that goldbricking—or more specifically, taking some downtime or personal time on the job—can give a sense of relaxation and alleviate stress. For example, a National University of Singapore study examined the impact of non-work-related internet usage (cyberloafing) on employee mood and work engagement; it found that cyberloafing can be a coping strategy for workers "giving rise to a positive mood that enhances work."

What Does Cyberloafing Mean?

Cyberloafing, aka cyberslacking, means using the internet at your worksite during working hours for personal reasons—often while pretending to do legitimate work.

What Does the Term “Counterproductive Work Behavior (CWB)” Refer to?

Counterproductive work behavior (CWB) refers to voluntary actions and behaviors by employees that harm or go against the interests of their employers, and/or others working at that business or organization. CWB has a negative impact on productivity and work quality and can increase workplace risk.

Counterproductive work behaviors come in many different forms, including absenteeism and tardiness, theft, fraud, sexual harassment, aggression and bullying, and sabotage. Goldbricking can also be considered a type of CWB.

Article Sources
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  4. The National University of Singapore. "THE WIRED WORKPLACE: IMPACT OF CYBERLOAFING ON MOODS AND WORK ENGAGEMENT." Accessed Aug. 17, 2021.