As a noun, a “goldbrick” is a worthless brick that appears to be made of gold. As a verb, “goldbrick” means a person who shirks assigned work.
The original “gold brick” was of pure gold metal, melted and molded into brick form for convenience in handling. But, around the mid-1800s, some Western promoters of mining properties began to create lead bricks of the same size, coated with gold. Rich, gullible Easterners were persuaded to invest in mines from which these “gold bricks” were alleged to have been produced, until eventually this term became synonymous with a swindle, with faking.
By World War I, the term goldbrick was used in the military, to mean shirking work or responsibility, often by feigning illness. Experts also learned how to fake the appearance of working, while actually shirking.
In more modern times, a 1999 report estimated that cyberslacking cost employers in the US $1 billion a year in computer resources. Instances of goldbricking increased markedly when broadband Internet connections became commonplace in workplaces. Before that, the slow speed of dial-up connections meant that spending work time browsing on the internet was rarely worthwhile. Many firms employ surveillance software to track employees’ Internet activity in an effort to limit liability and improve productivity.
Goldbricking became a mainstream topic when Yahoo! announced in late February 2013 that it was banning the practice of telecommuting because it discovered its remote employees were not logging into the corporate VPN often enough.
But research has shown that permitting employees to use computer resources for personal reasons actually increases productivity. A study by the National University of Singapore entitled Impact of Cyberloafing on Psychological Engagement concluded that using the internet for personal use served the same purpose as a coffee break and helped workers concentrate and stay engaged.
New research also shows that employees might use cyberloafing to cope with abusive and stressful conditions in the workplace, when they believe they are being treated unfairly.
I, too, have indulged in goldbricking, but only when the work was so painfully boring that I had to take breaks. Getting caught playing online games would, I think, be slightly less embarrassing than to be discovered asleep on the keyboard.