What is Idle Time

Idle time is unproductive time on the part of employees or machines caused by management or as a result of factors beyond their control. Idle time is the time associated with waiting, or when a piece of machinery is not being used but could be. It could also be associated with computing, and in that case, refers to processing time.


Time management is extremely important in any business, but particularly in a business with high fixed costs. Idle workers who are on fixed salaries are a detriment to company profitability and a drag to overall productivity. Idle machinery or equipment generates depreciation expenses and also reduces output productivity. "Idle" time for plant machinery and equipment should not be confused by "downtime" for regular maintenance and repair. Regularly scheduled downtime for manufacturing assets is a normal business practice.

Causes of Idle Time

Company managers who do not efficiently schedule work shifts or operations flow may cause idle time. Employees themselves may be responsible for causing idle time. For example, if a car factory assembly team makes 100 cars in an eight-hour shift and the quality inspection and testing group processes only 50 cars during that shift, the assembly line would have to idle for a period of time until the quality control group caught up to pace.

A natural disaster could also be the reason for idle time. Floods, for instance, frequently result in stoppages of loading and unloading of containers at shipping ports or railway terminals, which would have a ripple effect on factories that rely on these transportation networks. With a surplus of finished inventory, factories would be forced to idle both workers and manufacturing facilities until goods started moving again.

Minimizing Idle Time

No business runs at 100% efficiency over long periods of time. Idle time is inevitable, but the goal is to minimize this "cost" to the company through careful scheduling and coordination with connected groups. Also, managers can draw up contingency plans to keep operations running when an unexpected event arises.