Goldbricking, in today’s terms, generally refers to staff who use their work internet access for personal reasons while maintaining the appearance of working, which can lead to inefficiency. The term originates from the confidence trick of applying a gold coating to a brick of worthless metal. Some employees do two non-work activities at once, a practice known as multishirking. In modern usage, the practice is also known as cyberslacking, cyberloafing or cyberbludging.

Instances of goldbricking have increased markedly since broadband Internet connections became commonplace in workplaces. Before that the slow speed of dial-up connections meant that the practice was rarely worthwhile. Many firms employ surveillance software to track employees’ Internet activity in an effort to limit liability and improve productivity. Other methods used to reduce goldbricking include installation of proxy servers to prevent programs from accessing resources like Internet Relay Chat, AOL Instant Messenger, or some online gambling services, strict disciplinary measures for employees found goldbricking, and carrot and stick measures like providing free or subsidized Internet access for employees outside of working hours.

In October 1879, N. D. Clark, the president of the First National Bank of Ravenna, Ohio, was visiting one of his mines in Colorado. A group of miners approached Mr. Clark and asked for a $10,000 cash advance on a brick of gold that they for some reason were not able to ship at the time. The head miner had told Clark that he had run into financial woes and had lost all of his property and desperately needed the money. Clark accepted the offer on the condition that the brick and the miner return with him to Chicago, and took the brick to a blacksmith for analysis. The blacksmith cut off a corner of the brick and determined that the brick was pure gold.

On the trip to Chicago, the miner vanished and further analysis of the brick found that the sides and corners were indeed gold but the main body of the brick was worthless. This act was copied and soon the phrase ‘to sell someone a gold brick’ came to describe a swindle and to ‘gold brick’ someone came to mean defrauding them. In the First World War, civilians were quickly promoted to the rank of lieutenant with minimal training, resulting in incompetency. They came to be known as ‘gold bricks’ by the enlisted corps due to the idea of gold bricks being frauds and the rank insignia resembling a gold bar. Eventually, the term became synonymous with anyone loafing and not doing a fair share of work.

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