look busy

"Quick the boss is coming, we need to look busy"

Is there a single word (or expression) to describe a person who only does their job while someone (the boss/manager) is watching, but who does everything except work while unsupervised.

We thought "shirker" might be an option, but that is just a lazy person who avoids work when ever possible. We're searching for a word that describes someone who deviously pretends to be super productive & efficient in front of (the "right") people, but actually reverts to doing virtually nothing as soon as people aren't watching.

Note: we hate micromanaging people or being micromanaged, but there are people who will sit on Facebook or Buzzfeed all day if not constantly supervised... what are they called...?

Thanks in advance!

  • 3
    I had the perfect word in mind, but then my boss came into my cube and I had to quickly close EL&U and bring up another window. Now I can't remember it.
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 27, 2015 at 14:41
  • 1
    In Italian we have "far finta di lavorare" which translated literally means a person who "fakes working". In English, I can only think of a person who "pretends to work when their boss is around". What about a shadow worker, derived from shadowbox? Otherwise, a person who pretends to look busy but doesn't actually do any real work is still a shirker, loafer, a lazy worker, a substandard employee etc. How about shammer?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 27, 2015 at 20:56
  • @HotLicks love it! :-)
    – nelsonic
    Jul 28, 2015 at 5:47
  • "Trying to look busy is a hard work."
    – Graffito
    Sep 2, 2015 at 16:43
  • Boondoggle? Is the closest I could dig.
    – amritanshu
    May 4, 2022 at 13:18

3 Answers 3


"Slacker" has the sense of someone who doesn't do work until compelled to (e.g. By the boss's presence). Where a "shirker" would like to avoid the work entirely, a slacker is perfectly capable of doing something but chooses not to at the moment. Here's one of the definitions from Urban Dictionary: "someone who is very lazy, doesn't do their work until the last minute, and frankly, enjoys it." This doesn't catch exactly what you want, but I don't think you'll find something more specific to the boss coming into the room.


The behaviour you are describing would be considered typical of a disloyal employee according to the following definition:

  • Most employers share a concern that employees may be disloyal.

  • Disloyalty of course spans a wide spectrum, from merely intentionally failing to perform tasks, accepting benefits personally that rightfully belongs to the employer, to dishonesty and theft. Disloyalty can also follow an employee who leaves the employer's employment taking with him as much business as he can along with what the employer considers proprietary and confidential information.



goof–off: "a person who avoids work or responsibility.." http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/goof-off

It is more common to use goof off as a verb "Jim goofs off and we have to do his work." The source cited above says that the first recorded usage was in 1953.

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