Confirmed: Idle Hands Are—In Fact—the Devil’s Workshop

Idle time, when you can’t get your work done, is a little like being stuck in a waiting room: you get bored, your mood sours, and you imagine yourself being anywhere else in the universe.

But is there an upside to idle time? We know, for example, that when employees can’t carry out their roles, they engage in extra-role behaviors. In other words, since they can’t do their jobs, they do stuff that’s not their jobs.

Surely, all those extra-role behaviors can’t be negative, can they? In addition to stealing printer paper, gossiping, and online shopping, they must also occasionally work on special projects, lend a hand to a co-worker, or…something positive, right?

Not so much, it seems.

I do wonder about mediators, moderators, and boundary conditions on this one. In my current role, being prevented from working due to circumstances beyond my control is an unmitigated frustration. When I worked in restaurants, however, the afternoon “dead time” was the unquestioned highlight of the entire shift for the whole team.

Is it Bad Because it is Boring? Effects of Idle Time on Employee Outcomes. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology.