One Third of US Adults Didn’t Take a Sick Day in 12 Months

Andrew Buck August 8, 2022
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We’re all familiar with sick days. You wake up and something’s not right. Perhaps you’ve got a fever, a cough, a splitting migraine, or you can’t get off the toilet.

But how common are sick days? Do you ever wonder if you’re taking too many, or if you take a below average number of sick days?

Data from Statista sheds some light on it. Read on to learn the average number of sick days people take today, as well as more interesting insight on the topic of sick leave.

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How Many Sick Days Do People Take on Average?

A Statista study looked at how many sick days people in the US who work or go to college/university took in the previous 12 months. They conducted four check-ins – the first and second half of 2020 and 2021.

The data found that, most commonly, people hadn’t taken any sick leave at all. This was the largest share of the data in each of the four updates.

Of those who said they had taken sick leave in the past 12 months, the most common number was 2-3 days.

Here are the share of each response for the most recent update, at the end of 2021:

On top of that, 21% responded that they don’t work or study, and 2% did not answer.

Check out the full list of data in the chart below:

Let’s look at some interesting takeaways from the data.

One Third Didn’t Take a Sick Day in the Past 12 Months

The most interesting piece of information is that the largest share of responses were those who had not taken a sick day in 12 months.

This was the most common response in all three updates: 30%, 33%, 34% and 32% respectively.

It was essentially double that of the next largest group, those who answered 2-3 days. So we could take from that that the average number of sick days is closer to zero than anything else.

~20% of Respondents Don’t Work or Study

Another interesting tidbit is that approximately 20% in each update did not work or study, and thus sick days didn’t apply to them.

It’s worth noting because that makes the number above – one third who did not take any sick leave – even more significant. This 30-34% of people is actually a portion of the roughly ~75% for whom the question was even relevant (taking into account those who don’t work or study, and those who gave no answer).

Thus it’s actually 44% of the total relevant respondents who did not take any sick leave in 12 months – nearly half of all workers/students.

Number of Sick Days Did Not Vary Greatly Due to COVID-19

With the study beginning at the start of 2020, and concluding at the end of 2021, you might expect big fluctuations in sick days due to COVID-19.

However, that wasn’t the case. The numbers are fairly consistent throughout, with nothing major to suggest that the biggest global pandemic of our generation was going on at the time of this study.

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Is it Good or Bad If People Don’t Take Sick Days?

Now, what does this data really mean?

It’s somewhat surprising that almost half of all workers/students seem to go at least 12 months without taking a sick day. Is this a good thing, or a bad thing?

Truth is, it’s hard to say. One could say this is normal, or to be expected. After all, most of us try to keep ourselves healthy, whether it be by eating right, exercising, taking regular time off, or any of the above.

But it could also be a sign that a lot of people aren’t taking sick leave when they’re actually sick – possibly because they don’t have paid sick leave available to them, or because their workplace looks down on people who take sick leave.

There’s nothing concrete to suggest that this is always the case. Yet it does happen, and if you’re a business owner or manager, it’s worth looking into the possibility that it’s the case in your company.

Be Mindful of Presenteeism in Your Workplace

Why should you be concerned if people aren’t taking sick leave?

Because it’s a sign of a certain phenomenon – widespread, yet not well understood – called presenteeism.

Presenteeism is the inverted sibling of absenteeism. Where, with absenteeism, the problem is employees not showing up to work, presenteeism is when they come to work too often.

Just because someone shows up to work every day, it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem. The issue is when people come to work when they’re not at 100%.

This could be due to sickness, injury, or even stress.

When this happens, they’re obviously not going to perform at their best. And the worst thing is, they’re going to take longer to get back to their best, since they’re not getting the rest and recovery they need.

The result is a loss in productive hours equating to around $150 billion dollars each year for US companies, from employees coming to work when they’re not well.

You can also take into account that sickness can spread throughout the rest of the company (assuming your company is based in the same office), when someone shows up with a viral illness, which we should all be starkly aware of since the pandemic.

Solutions

The moral of the story is that sick leave is not necessarily a bad thing. People get sick, and if they do, it’s for the good of the company that they stay home from work.

You don’t want people infecting their workmates, or operating for a long time at less than 100%, because they didn’t want to (or couldn’t) take a couple of sick days.

So what’s the solution?

First, make sure paid sick leave is available to your employees. When people are faced with the decision of staying home or going to work and getting paid, most feel like they can’t afford not to work.

Then, don’t demonize people who take sick leave. Absenteeism and sick leave abuse does happen, but it’s rare. If you see patterns like this come up, you can address it from there.

But the overwhelming majority of cases are legitimate ones, where the employee is not trying to game the system. They’re actually just sick.

Make it easy for team members to ask for a sick day. Using Flamingo for your leave management needs is a great step for any business operating on Slack, as it gives people a smooth and stress-free process to report that they need a sick day.

Flamingo also makes it easy to investigate any patterns involved with sick leave and absenteeism, so if people do start to take advantage, you can easily follow up.

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Final Thoughts on the Average Number of Sick Days Per Year

Sick leave is a normal thing. Even those of us with the most healthy lifestyle can’t avoid getting sick every once in a while.

Yet the data shows that a lot of us never take sick leave. That may not be an issue – perhaps these people just aren’t getting sick – but if people are getting sick and still coming to work, it becomes a problem.

Make sure your business makes it clear that paid sick leave is there and available should employees need it. A day or two at home is better than working through an illness and turning it into a long-term problem.

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