- A new study on the downside of idle time in the workplace found that when employees anticipate down time at the end of a task, their work speed slows and the time to complete the task lengthens. University of Texas researchers focused their study on employees who don't have enough work to fill their days and are left with hours of idle time.
- Researchers studied workers in various occupations nationwide and found that excess idle time is a problem across job categories. It's estimated that idleness among workers costs employers about $1 billion a year in wages.
- The last phase of the study shows that workers' anticipation of spending idle time doing leisure activities, such as surfing the Internet, can reduce the impact of lost time due to idleness.
Managers who suspect that employees have "too much time on their hands" may need to identify the root cause. Just as managers might need to cut back or reschedule the assignments of stressed out, overworked employees, they also might need to give idle workers additional or more challenging assignments.
The study does note the importance of downtime and breaks for leisure between tasks. If leisure time is allowed, employees actually don't lose as much productivity, according to the study, because they know they won't be penalized for completing work swiftly and accurately. Normalizing break time can go a long way for employees on both sides of the productivity spectrum (those with too much and too little work).
Employers also can help reduce burnout and boredom by making sure goals and expectations are unambiguous; giving workers more autonomy over their daily assignments, which should be challenging but not grueling; allowing flexible work schedules when possible; and encouraging fun at work.