What is the Average Absenteeism Rate?

Andrew Buck June 20, 2023
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To understand if your business has an absenteeism problem, first you need to know the average absenteeism rate. While this won’t tell the whole story, it will give you some perspective as to where your organization stands against the norm.

In this article, we’ll share the average employee absence rate in the US and a few other countries. We’ll also show you how to calculate your employee absenteeism rate to compare against the average, along with some strategies to fight excessive absenteeism.

Learn More: learn what can be considered “Excessive Absenteeism”, and what you can do about it, in this post.

The Average Absenteeism Rate in the US

According to data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average absence rate for full-time and salaried workers is 3.6%.

This covers employees who usually work 35 hours or more per week, and includes situations where these employees were unexpectedly absent due to illness or injury, child care problems or family or personal obligations.

The report by the BLS breaks the data down further, by occupation, industry, and comparing private sector employees vs public sector/government employees.

In terms of occupation, the highest absenteeism rates include:

While the lowest are:

By industry, the highest absenteeism rates are:

The lowest are:

Public sector employees average 4.2% absenteeism, compared to 3.5% for the private sector.

Absenteeism Rates Around the World

The average employee absenteeism rate is not the same in every location. Different attitudes towards workplace absences, sick leave availability and more factors influence absence percentage in each country.

In the UK, the latest sickness absence rate is 2.6%, representing an estimated 185.6 million working days lost due to sickness or injury. This doesn’t include non-sickness or injury-related absences, though (such as child care, personal or family obligations).

Data from Small Business Prices shows the average number of days lost per employee per year due to illness in various countries.

In this data, countries on the low end include:

While the higher end includes:

If we take 250 working days as the norm (52 weeks x 5 days per week, minus 10 days allowance for public holidays), these figures equal the following absence rates as a percentage:

Once again, consider that the actual absenteeism rates are likely 1-2% higher, if you consider non-illness absences.

In Australia, the average rate of unscheduled absences is approximately 11 days per year (4.4%), according to the Australian Public Service Commission.

The most recent available data in New Zealand, via Southern Cross, has the absence rate at 4.2 days, or 1.7%.

Statistics Canada has the average Canada absence rate at 11.6 days lost per year, approximately 4.6%.

CountryAverage Absence Rate
United States3.6%
United Kingdom2.6%
Canada4.6%
Australia4.4%
New Zealand1.7%
Most recent data; estimates

What Kind of Absences Count for Absenteeism?

Absenteeism or absence rate usually only considers unscheduled and unexpected absences. This means absences like:

It doesn’t include when employees miss work due to:

The definition of absenteeism can also differ from organization to organization. Some consider all unscheduled absences, as above, though others only consider unexcused absences – such as sick leave without valid proof or non-attendance without a reason.

Learn More: each and every Type of Leave you should offer in your business.

How to Calculate Absenteeism Rate

You can use a simple absenteeism formula to calculate the absenteeism rate in your team.

For this you simply divide the number of unscheduled absences in a given period by the total number of available workdays for the same period.

This doesn’t have to be a full year – it can be by month, quarter, or any other period (at least 30 days is recommended, to make sure your data is meaningful and significant).

Absenteeism Rate Example

Let’s take an example. You’re looking to calculate the absence rate of an employee over the last 90 days.

If they’ve been absent 6 days over this period, their absence rate is 6.7% (6 divided by 90).

If you want to calculate the absence rate of your entire team, you’ll need to divide the total number of absences by the total number of working days – for example, if your business has 250 working days in a year, and 20 employees, the total number of working days will be 5000.

Just be sure to ignore public holidays and vacation days when you add up the total number of working days for the absenteeism rate formula.

How to Know if Your Absence Rate is Acceptable or Not

An easy way to get perspective on whether your absence rate is good or bad is to match it against the average absence rate wherever your team is located.

If you’re in the US, for example, a 3% employee absence rate is in line with (in fact slightly under) the average. Though in the UK, this is slightly above average.

You may want to go a step further to compare your absence rate against the industry average, if you can find this data (refer to the Bureau of Labor Statistics report if you’re a US-based team).

However, you should not automatically assume that your absence rate is good if it’s below the average, and bad if it’s higher.

You should take circumstances into account. Also, assess absence rates individually, and look for any trends. Does the individual show a consistent habit of absenteeism, or is the data skewed by a specific period where they had a higher number of absences? This could have been due to a tough time in their personal life, or a particularly bad illness or injury that’s not the norm.

The bottom line is that you can’t necessarily go off absence rate alone when you want to fix problems with absenteeism in your business. However, it’s a good thing to track and compare to the averages to get an idea if you may have a problem or not.

How to Reduce Absence Rate

Absenteeism is estimated to cost over $200 billion to US employers each year. Want to cut down the absence rate in your business? Here are some tips.

Set a clear absence policy

The first step to achieving any outcome in your business is to set expectations. Employees need to know what is acceptable and what is not.

In your employee handbook, make it clear what absences are acceptable, at what rate, and what employees need to do when they will be absent (e.g. give notice as soon as possible).

Create a positive work environment

The most effective way to reduce employee absences (especially unexplained, unexcused absences) is to create a workplace culture where employees are excited and motivated to come to work. Work on improving employee engagement and job satisfaction, and absenteeism generally drops as well.

Encourage employees to live a healthy lifestyle

The majority of absences are due to sickness and injury, and come as a result of poor health. You can help reduce how much your team gets sick by encouraging them to live healthy.

Share tips on healthy living in your employee handbook, and offer wellness benefits (e.g. healthcare, mental health resources and support, healthy food at work) as part of your benefits package.

Offer ample vacation time

If employees have enough time to take off and go on vacation, they’ll be happier, healthier, and you’ll have fewer unplanned absences like sick days. Make sure you’re not being stingy with how much paid time off your team can take each year.

Track absences and follow up trends

Finally, you’ll struggle to treat absenteeism without; a) tracking employee absence data, and b) following up with people showing a consistent absence pattern.

Use an absence management tool like Flamingo to make it easy to see absenteeism trends before they become deep-rooted and hard to change. You’ll be able to generate customizable reports in just a few clicks, which you can use to take action with routinely absent employees where necessary.

Track and Reduce Absenteeism with Flamingo

Flamingo is the most effective absence tracking tool for modern teams. It’s free to try, and takes just a few minutes to set up and build a more efficient absence management workflow.

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Can Your Absence Rate Be Too Low?

Every organization wants to lower their absence rate. Fewer absences theoretically means more productive time, less sick leave, etc.

However, you should understand that a certain number of absences is normal. We all get sick from time to time, most of us have unexpected personal or family issues that come up and need attention.

It’s not smart to try and stop absences completely. The following can happy when you aim for a 0% absence rate:

Presenteeism – when employees are present at work too often, despite being sick, unwell or burnt out – can cost businesses even more in the long run than absenteeism.

So don’t try to cut out absences altogether. Have a hard line on unexplained, unexcused absences (such as no shows), and follow up with those who have above average absenteeism. But accept that absences happen, and prepare for work to continue when they do.

Further Reading: How Much Sick Leave is Average? Why one third of US employees go more than a year without taking a sick day.

Final Thoughts

Employee absenteeism is a common and costly problem for business leaders to deal with. An absent employee impacts your team’s productivity, and puts additional strain on the rest of the team, which can have even more serious implications long-term (such as causing overwork and burnout).

Though you never will (nor should you want to) achieve a zero absence rate in your business, it’s important to limit as much as possible the rate of unplanned absence, particularly from those who are routinely taking off work.

Make sure you use an absence reporting tool (like Flamingo) to track data and generate reports, which you can use to identify trends and reduce absenteeism in the workplace.

Leave management software for modern teams

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

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