Idle time is not due to laziness on the part of workers, but rather a variety of causes, including the tendency of companies to carry more employees than they need as an insurance against busy times. After all, nobody likes waiting on hold for a customer service representative.

In other instances, the downtime may be caused by managers allocating work poorly, leaving employees with nothing to do, or by equipment malfunctions which leave the help unable to complete necessary tasks.

In the new survey conducted of 2,103 workers across 29 broad job categories, a team led by Andrew Brodsky of the University of Texas and Teresa Amabile at Harvard Business School found that the vast majority (78.1 percent) reported experiencing idle time, and a healthy minority of 21.7 percent reported being idle (and bored) for at least part of the day.