The Cost of Unproductive Time on the Job Site


By John Lack,

The cost of unproductive time on a job site can be enormous to a contractor who does not take notice. Contractors tend to focus on the end results of their projects or their year-end numbers and use them as metrics on how the company is doing. Although those numbers tell you how the company did overall, I believe your results can greatly improve if you focus more on the process.

Keeping track of unproductive time can help you discover problems earlier, allowing you to resolve them sooner. It can also improve job-site labor hours and the overall financials of the company. Nonproductive time can affect your employee morale as well. There is often a feeling of satisfaction at the end of a productive day. In my experience, when employees understand the full cost of an hour's work (including payroll, taxes, workers' compensation, health insurance, etc.), they realize how much 10 minutes of unproductive time here and there can add up and why the company has expectations of them. 

When looking at productivity, keep in mind the scope of work and the time it takes to perform the task. Assessing productivity in three categories—normal, perfect, and attainable—can help discern if a plan of action needs to be taken. I define the categories as follows:

  • Normal. What is the average and what is currently being achieved? 
  • Perfect. What would be ideal but is unrealistic to obtain? 
  • Attainable. What is achievable and has already been performed by the company?

Below are some areas where unproductive time can be found:

  • Start of the day. Time can be lost by employees coming into work late or not properly setting up for the day’s work.
  • End of the day. The idea of not starting something new at the end of the day can sometimes make the last hour unproductive.
  • Waiting on instructions. Employees can waste a lot of time at a job site in this scenario.
  • Breaks and lunches. When conversations get going or employees run out for lunch, breaks can get drawn out.
  • Handling materials. Time can be lost when materials are handled more than once. Ideally, materials should be delivered to the point of use so employees can grab and install.
  • Cell phones. Talking or texting can be a distraction during work hours if limits are not set.
  • Equipment and tools. Employees can work more efficiently when using the correct tools that are in good working order.     
  • Out house. The location can make a difference. Having a portable toilet down the road or at the end of the driveway can double the time it takes employees to use it. 
  • Between projects. Poor scheduling can cause unproductive time as employees travel from one job to another. 
  • Poor management. A project foreman makes many decisions a day that impact productivity, safety, and quality. A dependable foreman is critical. 

Training employees on productivity and investing in their education can benefit your company and lead to higher quality work, fewer accidents, and less rework.

This article was written by Acuity Insurance's Construction Specialist, John Lack. For more construction business tips visit:

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