Everyone has heard the phrase “idle hands are the devil’s playground.” As it turns out, idle hands are also a persistent drain on business’s bottom line — a new study indicates that companies are spending $100 billion a year paying workers who aren’t so much working.
Idle time, as defined by the study, is time spent at work on the clock where an employee is unable to be productive. Think a manager who can’t complete a power point until data comes in from another team, or a cashier in a store with no customers at present. Most employees — around 66 percent — experience some variety of idle time at work, and a little over 20 percent say it is a daily occurrence.
The estimate of $100 billion derives from multiplying the average yearly idle time by the number of Americans who work full-time outside of their homes by the median U.S. wage of $17.09 an hour. The study also selected participants to represent the diversity of ages, regions, races and education levels of American workers.
That workers aren’t always working at 100 percent capacity is not a bad thing, as fully tasked workers at every minute of every workday leads to burnout — and to a lack of flexibility when unexpected labor pops up.
But Andrew Brodsky — one of the research’s authors and an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business — points out that idle time is not quite the same a getting a break to recharge. They tend to get bored, and stretch their labors out so as not to appear idle or unnecessary.
Mr. Brodsky is also fairly certain that simply adding to the workload of most employees will not be helpful to solving the problem, since idle time is both hard to predict and estimate. Adding more work to piles across the board will result in people being overworked more than properly tasked.
Instead, employers should encourage workers to be open about their lulls so bosses know who is really free. But for that to happen, according to Brodsky, corporate leaders could also push for workers to actually use their idle time toward taking structured breaks — as workers who were able to divert time into something enjoyable didn’t actually show the same pace-slowing effects as workers who attempted to stretch work to appear more busy.