One might think of boondoggle/boondoggling but I'm looking for something a bit different: rather than trying to appear busy without actually being so, I'm trying to find a word or expression to describe the effort to be busy and appear to be busy for the sake of it, without that activity necessarily resulting in anything useful or meaningful. Showing off as hard working doing meaningless work, or being more concerned with being busy than being productive or helpful; doing useless work to appear hardworking, showing off work without adding to the bottom line etc.

Maybe this describes the ethos of many a corporate environment, especially in the aftermath of large companies sending their employees to work from home.

2 Answers 2



the practice of doing less work than one is able to, while maintaining the appearance of working

It refers to a con of putting a layer of gold on a brick.

The person himself is a goldbricker as a consequence.


They may be "swinging the lead". The phrase probably derives from a past past technique of lowering a lead weight on a line from a ship to determine the depth of water. Some lazy sailors would do it slowly, badly or for too long so as to appear busy without actually doing very much.

  • Thanks. Well maybe, but is is sort of boondoggling isn't it? I think there's an earnestness to what I'm trying to describe, almost as if they believe what they do is contributing to something even if it clearly isn't. And they're definitely busy, except they wasting company time and money in being so and trying to appear so.
    – Dennis M.
    Sep 21, 2020 at 21:33
  • We don't see "boondoggle" used much in the Britain but I thought it meant a large and useless expensive project rather than a personal thing. But I see the parallel, when the work continues uselessly until the money runs out. Thanks.
    – Anton
    Sep 21, 2020 at 21:50
  • Busy work. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Busy_work
    – Kris
    Sep 22, 2020 at 2:34

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.