How to Track and Address Employee Idle Time
A recent headline noted research that found “Companies spend $100B for idle employees annually”. Researchers examined the factors contributing to idle time and why it can be challenging to get an accurate picture of idle time. Employee monitoring software can help clarify the picture.
University of Texas-Austin researchers examining the cause and effect of employee idle time found “78.1 percent of employees experience idle time at work, with 21.7 percent of employees experiencing idle time on a daily basis.”
The paper states that the shift in the labor market from production-based to service-based work is a big driver behind why organizations have idle time: “the primary input for service jobs is moment-to-moment customer demand, which most organizations have little control over.” In addition, the researchers highlight factors that impact idle time:
- The anticipation of idle time affects worker productivity: “…a marketing analyst who knows that her manager tends not to assign enough work may anticipate idle time after nearly every task and alter her behavior accordingly, even if there is a chance that unexpected tasks may arise.”
- Low time pressure vs. high time pressure impacts idle time. As Parkinson’s Law states: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. The research authors refer to this as work-stretching: in the absence of tight deadlines, people tend to work more slowly.
Most organizations don’t have a good picture of idle time. It’s likely that managers aren’t aware of how much idle time exists on their teams for the very simple reason that it’s not in the employees’ best interest to note they don’t have enough to do.
The research authors note ways that organizations might get better insight into idle time:
- “… if organizations were to openly acknowledge and sanction idle time as an unavoidable part of the work, for which employees would not be evaluated negatively, then the stigma associated with being idle could be reduced.”
- “… if employees are more open about their idle time, managers will be able to better allocate work tasks.“
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Employee monitoring software enables you to immediately identify and manage idle time. Specifically, here’s what you can do when you apply employee monitoring software to productivity analysis:
- Create customized lists of websites, activities, and applications that fit into both productive and nonproductive categories.
- Track how long specific tasks take when actively being worked, and then use this baseline to better plan task execution and distribute workload as needed to keep your team productive.
- Analyze idle time to highlight process or technology obstacles and work to address the obstacles.
- Gain insights into high- and low-productivity trends across teams and individuals to help managers and employees identify their peak performance periods.
- Get alerts when idle time is detected so managers can intervene to fine-tune workload assignments.
Changing perceptions around idle time or expecting employees to routinely raise instances of idle time may not be realistic. Getting objective data around active vs. idle time is a better solution for ensuring productivity and business results.