Workers Taking the Most Sick Days

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Sick days are estimated to cost the U.S. economy $84 billion each year. According to the latest data released in a joint study by Gallup and Healthways, some professions miss substantially more time each month due to sickness than others.

Doctors miss roughly one day every four months due to illness. Those working in the service industry, on the other hand, miss almost one day every two months. These are the jobs in which workers take the most and least sick days.

It would make sense that Americans miss work days because they are sick. And to some extent that is true. Physicians, who miss by far the least amount of work due to sickness, are by far the healthiest. However, doctors appear to be an exception.

In fact, some of the professions that rarely call in sick are among the least healthy. More people working in the farming, forestry and fishing industry have health problems preventing them from doing things appropriate for their age group than any other occupation, according to the study. Despite their poor health, they miss an average of just one day every four months, the second least among the 14 job categories measured. Meanwhile, nurses, clerical workers and service workers report average or above average health but miss the most days from work due to illness.

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Unreliable salary also makes it less likely that workers will take time off. Many professions that miss relatively more days, such as nurses and office workers, are often salaried positions with allotted sick days. Workers in installation and repair jobs, who miss relatively little time, are much more likely to be paid per service roles. “If you’re in a low income situation that is coupled with a job that requires punching in,” Gallup’s Dan Witters suggested, “you’re going to be highly motivated to show up for work whether you’re in good physical health or not.”

Based on data provided by Gallup-Healthways as part of their Well-Being Index survey, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the average number of days per month missed because of poor health in each of 14 major professional categories. We reviewed a variety of other data provided by the group as part of its 2012 Well-Being Index. The data are based on a survey of 94,000 Americans between January 2 and September 10, 2012. All responses are for those who worked 30 hours or more per week.

14. Physicians
> Number of days missed: 0.24
> Cost of lost productivity: $250 million
> Unhealthy weight or chronic health condition: 67.9%
> Job types: Internist, obstetrician, anesthesiologist

Physicians miss fewer days of work due to illness than any other profession. Witters noted that doctors have a great deal of responsibility to their patients, making it very difficult for them to miss work. Physicians also tend to be in better health than any other profession. Less than 68% of doctors are considered above average weight or have a chronic health condition, by far the lowest percentage among the professions surveyed. This is likely in part because doctors have, according to Gallup-Healthways, the best health habits. For instance, less than 4% of doctors smoke, compared to more than 2% of people in all professions measured.

13. Farmers, Foresters, Fishers

> Number of days missed: 0.25
> Cost of lost productivity: $160 million
> Unhealthy weight or chronic health condition: 78.8%
> Job types: Fishermen, lumberjacks, farmers

Workers in agriculture, fishing and forestry are among the most emotionally healthy in the nation. Only one other occupation, physicians, ranked higher. An estimated 93% of farm workers said they felt treated with respect, and less than 28% said they felt stressed the day before. However, they appear to be one of the least physically groups, with 16% stating they had health problems that prevented them from doing age-appropriate activities, second only to service workers. However, on average, farmers missed very few days of work a year, potentially in part due to the constant attention they must give to their crops and livestock.

12. Construction or Mining

> Number of days missed: 0.28
> Cost of lost productivity: $1.3 billion
> Unhealthy weight or chronic health condition: 80.5%
> Job types: Carpenter, plumber, miner

Construction and mining workers tend to have worse health than most professions. An 80.5% of such workers have an unhealthy weight or chronic health condition. A mere 61.2% of construction and mining workers indicated they have health insurance, the lowest percentage in the country, perhaps exacerbating some of their problems. Nevertheless, they are expected to come to work even when they are sick, Witters said, perhaps explaining the few sick days off they take a year.

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11. Installation/Repair
> Number of days missed: 0.35 (tied for 10th highest)
> Cost of lost productivity: $1.5 billion
> Unhealthy weight or chronic health condition: 83.0%
> Job types: Mechanic, linesman, maintenance worker

Like construction workers, installation and repair workers tend to miss fewer days of work due to illness compared to other professions despite being in generally poorer health. Installation workers tend to have higher rates of recurring pain than most other professions. The profession was one of just two where more than 30% of employees indicated they had neck or back problems that caused recurring pain in the past 12 months. Moreover, about 23.6% said they had leg or knee problems that caused recurring pain in a 12-month span, more than all other professions except for farmers, foresters and fishers.

10. Sales
> Number of days missed: 0.35 (tied for 10th highest)
> Cost of lost productivity: $6.8 billion
> Unhealthy weight or chronic health condition: 75.2%
> Job types: Sales agent, manufacturer’s representative, clerk

Sales workers are among the least satisfied with their jobs, but that does not stop them from missing fewer days than the majority of the occupations measured. The average sales worker is less likely to engage in healthy behavior than the average American. They were the least likely to eat healthy all day and less likely to get exercise than most other professions. However, they are actually one of the healthier professions measured. They have below-average obesity and are less likely to have chronic pain, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

9. Managers/Executives
> Number of days missed: 0.36
> Cost of lost productivity: $15.7 billion
> Unhealthy weight or chronic health condition: 78.8%
> Job types: CEO, executive director

Although managers and executives tend to miss fewer days than the majority of professions, the cost of lost productivity is quite high. Annually, companies lose $15.7 billion a year for lost productivity when executives and managers miss work. The health of managers is a mixed bag. For instance, approximately 22.4% indicated they have high blood pressure, more than any other profession except for transportation workers. However, these professionals also tend to have among the lowest rates of recurring pain in the neck, back and legs.

8. Professional
> Number of days missed: 0.37
> Cost of lost productivity: $24.2 billion
> Unhealthy weight or chronic health condition: 74.8%
> Job types: Lawyer, accountant, engineer

Professional workers — such as lawyers, engineers, accountants and bankers — were among the least likely to have above-normal weight or suffer from a chronic condition, behind only teachers, nurses and physicians. These workers also were among the most likely to be in good physical health. In addition to good physical health, these workers also were likely to enjoy their lives and jobs. Among individuals surveyed by Gallup in 2012, only teachers and physicians gave their lives higher evaluations than workers in professional occupations. Also, respondents from just three of 13 other occupations gave higher ratings to their work environments.

7. Manufacturing/Production
> Number of days missed: 0.38
> Cost of lost productivity: $2.8 billion
> Unhealthy weight or chronic health condition: 82.0%
> Job types: Assembly line workers, bakers, machine workers

Manufacturing and production workers, which include assembly line workers and other factory jobs, cannot afford to risk job security by missing too much work. They were one of the three professional categories most likely to report being unable to provide adequate shelter or food for their families. They also were among the most likely groups to contract certain common diseases such as colds, the flu and headaches. However, they have among the lowest levels of cancer diagnosis.

6. School Teacher
> Number of days missed: 0.39
> Cost of lost productivity: $5.6 billion
> Unhealthy weight or chronic health condition: 72.6%
> Job types: High school teacher, special education teacher, teaching assistants

Teachers tend to be in be in better health compared to most other professions. Just 72.6% are above normal weight or have at least one chronic health condition, a lower percentage than any other profession except for doctors. Teachers’ well-being is higher than all professions except for doctors. They scored especially well in terms of emotional health. More than 90% of teachers indicated they experienced a lot of enjoyment in the past day, a higher percentage than all other professions measured. Although teachers are in better health, they miss more days than many professions. Witters noted that teachers can get a substitute to take over the class, making staying at home due to illness more manageable than other professions.

5. Transportation

> Number of days missed: 0.40
> Cost of lost productivity: $3.5 billion
> Unhealthy weight or chronic health condition: 86.0%
> Job types: Bus drivers, flight attendants, air traffic controllers

Transportation workers include taxi, truck and bus drivers, as well as delivery company employees. People in such jobs received the lowest well-being index score from Gallup-Healthways, due largely to poor self-evaluations, poor levels of emotional health and the lowest evaluations of their work environments of any workers. Additionally, the percentage of transportation workers who had been told they had diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure were higher than for all other occupations. Transportation workers were also the most likely to have either an unhealthy weight or a chronic health condition.

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4. Business Owners
> Number of days missed: 0.41
> Cost of lost productivity: $2 billion
> Unhealthy weight or chronic health condition: 79.2%
> Job types: Contractor, store owner, entrepreneur

While business owners — which includes many self-employed workers — miss more days due to illness than those in the majority of other professions, the impact of these missed days is on the lower end. Like many professions, the health of business owners as a whole is a mixed bag. Just 20.5% of all business owners were considered to be obese, lower than any other profession except for physicians. However, business owners reported having higher rates of high cholesterol, high blood pressure and cancer compared to most other professions.

3. Nurses

> Number of days missed: 0.43
> Cost of lost productivity: $3.6 billion
> Unhealthy weight or chronic health condition: 73.7%
> Job types: Licensed nurse, registered nurse

Nurses tend to be in pretty good health. Less than 74% of nurses were considered above average weight or reported having a chronic condition, lower than all but two other professions. Nurses, naturally, tend to have better health habits than the majority of people in other professions. Almost 65% of nurses indicated that they had at least five servings of a fruit or vegetables in four or more the prior seven days, more than any other profession. Similarly, more than 57% of nurses indicated they had exercised for at least 30 minutes in at least three days in the past week, compared to less than 55% people in all professions measured. Witters noted that nurses have less responsibility than doctors, giving them more flexibility to stay home when feeling ill.

2. Clerical or Office Worker

> Number of days missed: 0.44
> Cost of lost productivity: $8.1 billion
> Unhealthy weight or chronic health condition: 76.5%
> Job types: Secretaries, bank tellers, postal clerks

Clerical and office workers were among the most likely to take time off from work due to sickness, taking 0.44 days off every month on average. On average, only workers in the service and farming sectors received worse scores for physical health. Among the clerical and office workers surveyed by Gallup, more than 19% said they lacked the energy to perform their usual activities during at least two of the past 30 days, lower than nearly all occupations.

1. Service Workers
> Number of days missed: 0.47
> Cost of lost productivity: $8.5 billion
> Unhealthy weight or chronic health condition: 76.4%
> Job types: Police officer, barber, waiter

Service workers include waiters, barbers and landscapers, among others. Few in the service sector are particularly high earners. The median hourly pay for workers in all occupations was more than $16 an hour in 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By comparison, the median pay per hour was just $8.81 for waiters, $11.45 an hour for barbers and less than $9 in food and beverage servicing. Not only are service workers generally paid very little, but they also often are employed in difficult work environments. According to evaluations compiled by Gallup, only transportation and manufacturing workers gave lower ratings to their work environments. In addition to difficult work conditions, service workers also received the worst grade for physical health.

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