Some day in the distant future we will tell our grandchildren about the time back on Earth, before the monthly Musk Buck stipends, when humans had to exert 40-plus hours of physical or mental labor each week to justify the continuation of their life.
As the sun sets over the Martian horizon, we will explain how, despite this societal arrangement, our species spent an inordinate amount of time scheming ways to work, game, and cheat this system so as to maximize returns and minimize efforts.
To aid our future selves in passing along these tales to the coming generations of the entirely automated age, we asked people of the present to share the most creative, roundabout, and arguably genius methods they've employed to avoid working while at work.
May these tales of slacking off serve as both a warning to not repeat the systemic employment mistakes of our past and a testament to man’s unyielding but entirely necessary desire to loaf.
In the early days of Lyft, before the low rates of today, the company was offering guaranteed $25 per hour for as long as you were logged in as driving. A bunch of us drivers figured out that if we went to the furthest corner of the region map where nobody was likely to request us, we could hang out there all day, active but unpinged, and get paid for it. It didn’t take long before they figured that out and added stipulations to prevent us from doing that but we got a few sizable paydays from that. A few times we even brought beers and a barbecue and made a little party of it.
- Mel, Irvine, California
Ages ago, I worked in an office. One of the tricks I used to slack off then was rigging our noisy dot-matrix printer (which we didn't actually use for anything) by removing the print-ribbon and taping over the thing that checks if it’s in place. Then I’d run a taped together loop of paper through it on that old-school tractor-feed. This would create a credible sound of "computer work" happening in my office while I took afternoon naps sitting upright in my chair.
- Albert, Seattle
My somewhat rural state capital hometown hosted a big farm convention every year. Though not raised on or interested in that lifestyle, I saw they were hiring and paying something insane like $14 hour (over a decade ago) and signed up for the two week gig while on my college winter break. I got the job and, on my first day of work, quickly realized that I didn’t have any specific supervisor and was apparently meant to just wander around and offer myself up to move a table or fence or whatever to anyone who might need me.
Armed with this knowledge, I spent the next two weeks going out to party with friends until morning every night, then driving to work at 7 AM, clocking in, and immediately slipping off to the parking lot to get a full day’s sleep in my car.
The second to last day of my employment, I was woken from my car sleep by a man in a suit rapping his knuckles on my window asking what I was doing. I told him I’d felt sick and came to have a mini nap to try and recharge. He told me to leave the premises and not come back. I was so worried I was going to catch a charge for time theft or something but I ended up just getting a check for the full two weeks of pay a month later.
- Bryce, St. Paul, Minnesota
I worked a summer job selling lockers, towels, and knick knacks at a water park when I was a teen. I remember one day I came into work and saw a memo at my station about this squirt toy we’d be selling from that day forward.
As we were unsupervised for a while, my coworker and I decided to open some of the product boxes and shirk all our other duties to spend the entire morning running around our area in the park having a knockdown, drag-out water gun war. This was all under the auspices of “promoting the new product” in case anyone asked.
When our supervisor finally reached us on her rounds, rather than reprimand us, she decided to ditch her responsibilities too and join in on the war. She was just a slightly older teenager who didn’t really care about the job either, after all.
- Garrett, Trenton, New Jersey
Worked for large, three-letter organization, on large contract for another three-letter organization. I automated 80 hours of financial analyst work down to 15 minutes. Used the remainder of my time to play computer games, day trade stocks (profitably), write a blog (before they were called that), and to woo some of the dozens of women who were online at the time via AIM. Monitor on that computer faced away from the cubicle door, but I surrounded the bezel with cardboard "barn doors" for extra protection, claiming that the interaction between the fluorescent lights and the monitor frequency really bothered my eyes (it was basically true, but I exaggerated it). On the computer I wasn't using, which had a monitor facing out of my cubicle, I ran a screensaver-type program that I had put together which did Hollywood-style printing things on screens (think green text printing out slowly in a window, as if over a modem) and graphs updating themselves every few minutes. Every so often, it would throw up a large white banner in the middle of the screen with red text that said "COMPILING."
- Fletcher, Washington, DC
A friend had a cast that had been cut off them and, being the lazy-but-scheming young adult I was, I asked for it so I could pull a fast one at my warehouse job. I spent two months wearing this janky cast wrapped in gauze so it stayed together on me. For some reason, nobody inspected it too closely and I spent most of that summer up in the office doing minimal assistant work at a desk instead of hard manual labor downstairs.
- Jordan, Atlanta
At one job, I found a pristine, never-used, lockable restroom on the unleased floor above ours. Any time I had to leave the building for a meeting or something and come back, I’d take the elevator up a floor and just hang out in my special room for an extra hour or so watching stuff on my laptop or napping on the floor—I must reiterate, it was spotless in there—before going downstairs and back to work.
- Shannon, New York City
Back in college, I worked at a call center where we weren’t ever really allowed to be off the phone. So, if I ever wanted a break, I’d dial my sister or a friend while they were busy at work. They knew what was up if I rang and they’d just pick up the phone and leave it off the hook at their desk and I’d improvise stuff to say to the nobody on the other end of the line while secretly reading a magazine under my desk.
- Kate, Hartford, Connecticut
When I was a floating post-production PA at a major TV network, I didn’t have much to do and there was very little oversight because my supervisor had her own stuff to worry about. I knew I always needed to look busy if I wanted to A) stay employed for the duration of my seasonal contract and B) look good to the people I was there to network with, and C) not have someone give me something to actually do. This resulted in me spending many hours each day going out on fabricated missions to hand deliver papers/scripts/etc. to and from non-existent recipients spread all around our big studio lot. This was just my excuse to meander the grounds and get fresh air for half the day and, as I had my badge and a folder in hand, nobody ever gave me a second look.
- Stephen, Burbank, California
Interviews edited for length and clarity.
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