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

Andrew Buck August 8, 2022
white ceramic mug on white table beside black eyeglasses

We all take paid sick days now and then. 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 sick days, or if you take a below average number of sick days?

This data 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.

Trending Article: These 15 major companies offer unlimited PTO. Should your company follow suit?

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.

Further Reading: 55% of US Employees Have Unused Paid Time Off. Learn why, and what to do about it.

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 their employer doesn’t offer paid sick leave, 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 inverse 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.

Related: How much PTO is average in the US and around the world.

How Much Sick Time Should Employees Take?

There’s no clear number of sick days you should expect employees to take. People get unwell at different frequencies – sick time should be there in case people need it, rather than as an expectation.

Most companies offer at least 6-8 days of paid sick leave per year. However, more companies these days are trending towards an unlimited number of paid sick days. If you need it, it’s there for you.

In an ideal world, your team members won’t take any sick leave at all. This would be ideal, not just because it saves costs for the business, but because it would mean your employees are healthy year-round.

That’s very rare, though. Everyone – full time employees, part time employees – gets unwell at some time. Whether it’s an illness, an injury, or even the effects of stress, overwork or burnout, people should be able to take a day off if they need to.

How to Ensure People Take Paid Sick Time When They Need It

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 paid sick days.

So what’s the solution?

First, make sure you provide paid sick leave 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.

But it’s not enough to just provide paid sick days. You also need to make sure people don’t feel guilty for taking a day or two of paid sick leave.

Absenteeism and sick leave abuse are much less common than you think. Most cases are legitimate, and aren’t a case of someone trying to game the system. The person really is unwell (or they may have family members unwell, i.e. sick children they need to take care of).

It’s not worth forcing these people to come in (or take unpaid sick leave) in order to set a hard line against abuse.

How to Manage Paid Sick Leave in Your Business

You should make it easy for your team members to ask for a sick day, and set up a clear process to track and manage sick days.

Flamingo is a great way to do this, for any teams using Slack. It offers a smooth and stress-free process to request paid sick days, while tracking and recording absences in case you need to follow up later on.

You can put a limit on how much paid sick leave team members can take each year, or simply check the reports to see if any concerning trends show up.

This is the best way to ensure a sick employee has the freedom to take time off and recover, while protecting against loss of productivity due to absenteeism.

Final Thoughts on the Average Number of Sick Days Per Year

Sick leave is a normal thing. Even those of us with healthy lifestyles 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 time 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.

Leave management software for modern teams

Flamingo makes managing your team’s paid time off a breeze.

Learn more

You may be interested
in these articles