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Is there a Goldbricking Problem in your Office?

A brick painted to look like gold was used by swindlers, passing it off as real gold. The term “goldbricking” also referred to soldiers who slacked off in performance of their duties or were lazy in carrying out their orders.

The most famous “goldbrick” story in history happened when I was in Fort Lauderdale in the 1980’s. As I start to write this, I realize that a) it’s not totally relevant to this post, and, b) it would be a long story. But man, it’s an exciting story. A $90M fraud, missing gold, a preacher, a murder and a man who predicted “I’ll soon be one of five men running the world.” Oh, and my conference call with the FBI and the Miami Herald.  A great story for another time.

GOLDBRICKING is a slang term for slacking off at work, loafing. Not doing or not whole-heartedly doing what a person is supposed to do. Putting in much less effort than they are expected to do as part of their job. Goofing-off.

In the late 1990’s software was developed to put on the network to prevent employees from visiting popular sites. But that was long before “social media” and the concerns were mostly Playboy, porn sites, news, sports and shopping sites. It was possible to either block everyone, or block certain people from certain sites. But that seemed like being too much of a nanny and the mantra was “If you don’t trust people to work, then you shouldn’t have hired them”. (That’s a fallacious argument, even today.)  So a less-strict management approach was to get a daily report of who visited which prohibited sites. But that took management time.

What was discovered to work well-enough, was to let everyone know that the system kept track of each person’s Internet activity, so just be aware that Big Brother “knows what you did last summer.”

But that was before smart phones with their own browsers and time-wasting apps.

Estimates are that employees routinely spend 30 to 60 minutes per workday using the Internet for non-work activity. Trillions of dollars of productivity in the USA wasted. OK, so you are not the USA, then how about this: for a small company of 20 employees, that’s equivalent to 10 hours a day, 43 hours a month. That’s equivalent to a full-time employee!

So, what’s a founder to do?

As they say in Spanish “la verdad la verdad?”, taken to mean, the real truth?

Well, the real truth is, I am not sure you can do anything about it, not physically. Not in a restriction type of way.

Then there is another point of view. Office workers have real lives, too, no matter how much you wish that wasn’t true when you are striving to meet a ship date or get ready for a big trade show, etc.  Many have children which means they are dealing with sickness, doctors, daycare, school, birthday parties and so on. They have families, parents, autos and homes, which require a certain amount of care and time during the week. And they have shopping – everything is available online.

In the old days, say five or more years ago, employees would need to leave the office to take care of many things they can now do online. Dealing with many of life’s chores online is actually less stress the them, and less interruption and impact to the workflow at the office.

Now that employees can take care of many of life’s requirements or irritants online, they don’t have to leave the office. leave early or come in late. They can take care of so many life chores online, actually saving time away from the office. So perhaps you aren’t “losing” that much time and, perhaps they aren’t ‘wasting’ as much time, as statistics would have you believe.

Our policy was to focus on outcomes. Simple good management sense. In a group meeting employees were told employees straight up that we know use of the Internet for non-office related work can be a problem. However, we want to trust them to keep it to a minimum. That wasting time created more work for the others; that we expected them to get their work done on-time and to keep up with email and customer onboarding. That sales targets must be achieved and any reports submitted on-time.

One tactic that worked was to have a daily 15-minute status meeting with everyone in attendance; every individual reported in and the new info was noted on the whiteboard under the notes from the day before. This status board reporting worked due to peer pressure. This won’t work in every environment, of course.

Office head counts and environments vary considerably, so there is no OSFA* solution.

In the last 20 years as unlimited Internet became standard on everyone’s desktop, my experience has been this: If the company gently addresses the matter up front, and gives respect to the employees, non-work use and goofing-off will be kept to acceptable limits.

Nobody wants to work in a place where their Internet use is restricted; they want to be implicitly trusted.


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