Idle time – definition and example

Idle time refers to time when an employee or a production machine is not producing anything, i.e., not working. Idle time may be due to any type of work stoppage. We also call it downtime, allowed time, or waiting time. Sometimes management causes the downtime, but not always. The waiting time might be due to factors beyond management’s control.

We associate idle time with waiting, i.e., when we are not using a piece of machinery, but could be using it.

We also use the term for computers. Specifically, when a computer is not in use even though it is available.

During a computer’s idle time, i.e., when nobody’s using it, we should set it to ‘standby‘ or ‘hibernate.’ We should set it to either of those two modes to save energy.

During downtimes, employers are still paying their workers even though they are not doing any work. In other words, it is the unproductive time of employees, for which they are still receiving money.

Collins Dictionary says the following regarding idle time:

“Time during which a machine or a worker could be working but is not, as when one job has been completed, and tooling or materials for the next are not complete or available.”

Idle Time
According to “Companies work hard to minimize idle time, both by ensuring that key machinery and people are in proper working order and by analyzing production processes to ensure that everyone always has something to do.”

Idle time – a loss for companies

During idle time, workers and machines do not produce anything, but workers still get their wages. For companies, this means they are losing money. If you still have costs but are getting nothing in return, you are incurring a loss.

Downtime may be the result of:

  • Mismanagement: managers did not organize the production system efficiently.
  • Accidents: if there is an accident and inspectors need to come in, they will ask that nobody enters the accident scene until they arrive. During that time, and also while they are inspecting the scene, there is no production.
  • Faulty equipment: if there is something wrong with a machine, it will either not work properly or at all. If a technician has to come in to fix it, they will turn off the machine. During that time, there is no production.
  • Job completed: sometimes, after workers have completed a job, there is nothing to do until the next job comes.

Regarding having nothing to do immediately after workers have completed a job, says:

“[This is] a very common cause of idle time. This happens due to mismatch in synchronization of dependent processes.”

Too much idle time can seriously undermine productivity. Productivity refers to production per worker per day, week, month, etc.

Productivity may also focus on machines rather than people. Alternatively, productivity may refer to the whole company, i.e., both humans and machines.

Video – Idle time basics

This video looks at how to set different types of automatic equipment so that they consume less energy during their idle times.