Idle Time

When employees still receive pay but are not being productive due to a work stoppage

What is Idle Time?

Idle time is when employees are still receiving pay but are not being productive due to a work stoppage that may occur for any number of reasons and may or may not be controlled by management. It may also refer to a time when a machine is not running. In either case, it is unproductive time, which means a company is losing money because it is still incurring expenses even though production’s been halted.

Idle Time

Idle time is sometimes referred to as waiting time, as the reason for the work stoppage may be due to employees or machines needing to wait on supplies or an event in order to resume working. Idle time is also sometimes referred to as downtime; however, idle time and downtime are actually not identical.


  • Idle time is when employees are still receiving pay but are not being productive due to a work stoppage that may occur for any number of reasons.
  • Common causes of idle time are scheduled work breaks and needing to wait on input material necessary for work to proceed.
  • Idle time differs from downtime in that idle time is when work could be performed but for some reason isn’t, while downtime generally refers to periods when, for some reason, work cannot be performed.

Formula for Calculating Idle Time

Idle Time = Available Production Time – Actual Production Time

Causes of Idle Time

The causes of idle time include all the different reasons why work may be unexpectedly and temporarily halted. The cause of a period of idle time is usually beyond the control of the employee and may or may not be within management’s control.

One of the most common causes of idle time is waiting on necessary material. For example, an employee may need to wait on a report from another department before being able to proceed with their own work. A machine may be subject to idle time if the operator must wait to receive the material that the machine processes.

Another cause of idle time may be a temporary work stoppage that is intentionally imposed by management. The work stoppage may occur if, for example, a company’s inventory storage facility is at full capacity and cannot hold any more products. Therefore, management may temporarily halt production until some of the existing inventory is sold or otherwise removed.

Idle time may also simply be the result of scheduled breaks for employees during the workday or of periods where machines are turned off in order to prevent them from overheating.

Although idle time represents periods of non-productivity, it may not necessarily be a detriment to a company’s operations. For example, various studies show that employees are overall more productive when provided with regular breaks in their workday. Therefore, management purposely scheduling idle time for employees may result in a net gain, rather than a net loss, in total employee productivity.

Idle Time vs. Downtime

It’s important to understand the difference between idle time and downtime. The difference lies in the nature of the reason for a work stoppage.

With idle time, employees or a machine are ready and available to do work but are unable to proceed with work for some reason, such as the need to wait on another department or machine to first complete their task.

In contrast, downtime refers to a circumstance where employees or a machine are not currently available for work. For example, damaged equipment may need repair or may be non-operational because it is undergoing scheduled maintenance. Downtime for employees may be a scheduled break in the workday.

Work stoppages that occur as a result of things such as power outages or severe weather are sometimes classified as idle time but are more appropriately characterized as downtime.

In short, idle time describes a time when work could be performed but isn’t, while downtime describes a time when work cannot be performed.

Additional Resources

CFI offers the Commercial Banking & Credit Analyst (CBCA)™ certification program for those looking to take their careers to the next level. To keep learning and developing your knowledge base, please explore the additional relevant resources below:

Financial Analyst Certification

Become a certified Financial Modeling and Valuation Analyst (FMVA)® by completing CFI’s online financial modeling classes and training program!

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