What is goldbricking in the workplace?
Goldbricking is a term for pretending to work and do productive tasks while actually not doing meaningful work. A goldbricking employee often does not perform up to standards and is not as productive as other employees. In a fully remote environment, goldbricking may be especially prominent.
The term is based on the original meaning referring to people who sold cheap metal with real gold plating on the outside. These fake gold bars looked like the real thing, but they were mostly worthless metal. Similarly, a goldbricker looks like they’re working, but they’re either doing unrelated tasks or doing a lot less work than they should be doing.
Examples of goldbricking behaviors
In the workplace, goldbricking means doing tasks that aren’t helpful to the company while looking like you’re being productive. Some examples of goldbricking behavior could include:
- Pretending to be working while browsing the internet
- Taking care of personal tasks during work hours
- Chatting with colleagues excessively, especially when acting as if it’s work-related
- Taking longer breaks or extra breaks
- Intentionally submitting poor quality work
- Moving slower than necessary to complete tasks
How a goldbricker could affect your company
When an employee isn’t performing up to your standards, it can lower your overall productivity. Goldbricking can come at a cost to your company because you’re spending money on work that isn’t being performed.
Underperforming employees often affect the work environment, leaving their colleagues frustrated if they have to put in more effort to compensate. It may look like favoritism if some employees get away with goldbricking while others are expected to perform at a high level.
Goldbricking can filter into the client experience. If customers receive low-quality results, it could impact their perception of your business. Goldbrickers might be slow to respond to clients, leaving them frustrated and delaying the help they need. Negative client experiences could lose your company business, or you might have to work hard to regain your customers’ trust.
How to identify goldbrickers
It’s not always easy to identify a goldbricker since they try to make themselves look productive. However, you might be able to spot subtle signs if you’re looking for the issue. Some signs include:
- Lower productivity rates than expected
- Decreased results, such as lower sales numbers
- Hiding browsers when someone enters or keeping screens hidden
- Lack of timely responses on urgent issues
- Catching the employee on breaks when they shouldn’t be
How to prevent goldbricking
As a manager, you have lots of responsibilities, and you’re not always there to monitor your employees. Making some changes to your work environment can help cut down on goldbricking. The following practices could help you minimize the behavior.
1. Create policies to prevent the behavior
Your policies, procedures and expectations create the groundwork for encouraging productivity. Since the internet is often a source of slacking, consider creating an internet use policy that outlines when and how employees can use the internet. A cellphone policy that restricts phone use at work could also help.
Set clear expectations for all employees, and ensure they understand what their job duties are. Managers and supervisors can remind employees of those expectations regularly to emphasize their importance.
2. Increase responsibilities and challenges
If boredom or lack of responsibility is an issue, find ways to offer more opportunities. This could be your chance to explore new processes or have employees conduct research that could set you apart in the industry. Cross-training employees in other roles can give them new challenges, and it can help you get the coverage you need if someone is gone.
3. Add internet filtering
You could also potentially block certain websites to keep employees from accessing them on workplace computers. Make sure you only block websites that have no relevance to your business, as you can slow down your employees if you block sites that they use as part of their regular duties. Keep in mind that they can still access blocked sites on personal cellphones, so this strategy might not completely fix the issue.
Beyond the Individual
If an employee is goldbricking, it can be constructive to approach the situation from a problem-solving perspective instead of through a disciplinary lens. There might be an issue causing them to underperform or a valid reason they’re not putting in 100%, such as a health problem or family troubles. In such cases, offering flexibility or an empathetic solution could empower them to work harder and ultimately benefit your business more.
Likewise, consider assessing the employee’s line manager’s conduct and make sure there isn’t a leadership training issue. This is especially important if multiple employees are goldbricking, as it could point to an endemic problem more than an individual one.
Part of a leadership team member’s job is to bring out the best in employees by praising excellent work, offering appropriate training and development opportunities, and swiftly picking up on and overcoming obstacles. Individual and team underperformance are best dealt with by curious leaders looking to affect positive change — not point the finger and blame anyone.
By regularly speaking to employees in individual and group meetings, managers gain a deep understanding of team members’ motives and behaviors and create a culture of open communication. If one of your staff member’s performance suddenly dips, they might feel comfortable enough to come to you and explain why. Or, they’ll be more likely to open up and tell you why if you ask them. Once you have a reason for their underperformance, you can work together on finding a solution.
Is goldbricking the same as counterproductive work behavior?
Goldbricking is generally considered to be a form of withdrawal, which is a counterproductive work behavior. Experts recommend that leaders use policy as the best form of defense against withdrawal behaviors such as absenteeism, lateness and goldbricking. That includes outlining clear definitions, having standardized procedures for notifying line managers about issues and creating well-defined rules regarding disciplinary action for continued offenses.
Can goldbricking actually be good for productivity?
Typically, goldbricking is not good for productivity because it can create an unfair playing field. The goldbricker does less work than what’s expected of them and contributes less than others with the same job description. The rest of the team then has to pick up the overspill of extra work created by their underperformance, forcing everyone else to do more than expected and not get paid extra. However, goldbricking could have some positive effects. For example, taking short mental breaks for activities unrelated to work can refresh the mind, boost creativity and reduce stress, ultimately contributing to better overall performance.
Is goldbricking the same as cyberslacking?
Goldbricking and cyberslacking have very similar meanings, except there’s an additional implication with the former and it describes a pattern of behavior. If someone is goldbricking, it suggests they’ve cultivated a series of methods to make it appear they’re productive, while doing as little as possible (and likely cyberslacking, too). On the other hand, cyberslacking could be a one-off where an employee sends personal emails or browses social media during work time.