What are the right words or phrases that describe a person who is pretending to be working hard or contributing to a team effort, actually doing nothing but waiting to get a (undeserved) share of reward?

I tried to look it up in a dictionary from my mother tongue to English, and I did not find any words or phrases, only full sentences.


8 Answers 8


One term that could be used is coaster.

It was hard to find a dictionary that listed this meaning of the word, but I managed to find one on the Wordnik page. One of Wordnik's cross-listed definition reads:

coaster (n.) A loafer.

In my experience, the word is often used when a member of a team is relying too much on others, and not contributing enough. This could be a sports team, or a team working on a project in school or the workplace. The verb form was used in a headline earlier this year, when a reporter wondered:

Dwyane Wade: Is Miami Heat Star on the Decline or Just Coasting?

As a synonym, you could probably use slacker. NOAD defines the word as:

slacker (n.) A person who avoids work or effort.

If the context makes it clear that the slacker is a member of a team, I think the word can carry the meaning you want.

  • Does 'loafer' mean the same?
    – NS.X.
    Commented Aug 17, 2013 at 5:18
  • 1
    A loafer is usually regarded as a lazy person. The word might work, depending on how it was used. If I said, "Bill and Ted worked their butts off, but Randy was a real loafer," then, yes, that would work. I think coaster comes a little closer to "pretending" to make an effort, though, because those people are "coasting along" from the work of others. Think of a tandem bike where one person isn't pedaling, but merely coasting.
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 17, 2013 at 9:18
  • To me, coasting is putting in the minimum effort to not get fired, not pretending to do work as the OP asked.
    – StephenS
    Commented Aug 23, 2020 at 15:57
  • @StephenS - The way I read the question, the OP asked about someone who is pretending to work hard, not someone who is pretending to work. But, either way, these are subtle differences that wouldn't really change my answer.
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 16:53

I'm not sure there's a word or simple phrase that incorporates "pretending to be working hard or contributing", but someone who isn't contributing while expecting to share in rewards could be called a "free rider" or, more pejoratively, a "straphanger".

  • In the UK, a straphanger would normally be understood to mean a commuter (particularly one using the London Underground to get to work). Commented Aug 16, 2013 at 22:14

The word that I would use is "shirker." In your (Chinese) language, this word would correspond to the ideogram of a woman talking, while carrying (or pretending to) a stack of grain.


Fudgel is an old (18th century?) English word that means “to pretend to be busy while actually doing nothing.”

A Huffington Post article reads:

To fudgel is an eighteenth-century term meaning “Pretending to work when you’re not actually doing anything at all.” Modern offices are full of it, largely because when somebody is staring intently at a computer screen and typing it’s hard to tell whether they’re busily putting together this year’s accounts or busily updating their Facebook status or buying something on eBay. “Stop fudgelling” should be the catchphrase of every efficient office manager.

  • I wouldn't expect most people to know what this means, but maybe one day it will be a "comeback word", along with the likes of deliciate and overmorrow.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 20:28

Goldbricker has the meaning you want

person who gets paid a wage, or salary, for work that is not done, despite the appearance of working.

but is unusual. And possibly old-fashioned -- I've found it in writing from the WWII era.


I like the phrase coat-hanger myself, someone who hovers around actually doing nothing is only really fit to hold your coat.


It seems that suitable words for this sense are a freeloader and a hanger-on.



verb (used without object), boon·dog·gled, boon·dog·gling. to do work of little or no practical value merely to keep or look busy.

  • A boondoggle can refer to the project itself, but not to the people working on it.
    – StephenS
    Commented Aug 23, 2020 at 15:55

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