New Data Show Americans' Work Leave Patterns

New Labor Department figures show who gets to leave the office, as well as why they are doing it.

Woman at beach working on laptop against the sea

Some people just can't get away from work. But new data show who is getting out of the office and why.


'Tis the season to be out of the office, with workers getting in their final getaways before the weather cools down. Most American workers have the option of taking time out of the office—according to new data from the Labor Department, over 90 percent of American workers over 15 years of age have access to leave from their jobs.

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However, not all office leave policies are created equal. Only 59 percent of workers have access to paid leave, for example. And the new data from the 2011 American Time Use Survey reveals other trends in who gets to duck out of work, as well as why they're doing it.

Below are a few groups taking leave more often than their peers in the workforce.

Government Workers

Nearly 29 percent of public sector workers surveyed reported taking leave from work in an average week, compared to just under 20 percent of private-sector workers. Even within the public sector, the variation can be wide. 36.6 percent of federal government workers reported taking leave in an average week, compared to under 30 percent for local governments and under 25 percent for state government.

However, it should be noted that government workers also have much greater access to paid leave than their private-sector peers. 76 percent of government workers reported that they have access to paid leave, compared to only about 57 percent of private-sector workers.

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Women appear slightly more likely to take leave than men. In an average week, over 23 percent of women reported taking paid or unpaid leave, compared to under 20 percent of men. That's not a big difference, but the gaps between men and women's reasons for leaving are more sizable. Women are far more likely to take medical leave: 26.8 percent of women who took leave during an average week said it was for their own illness or medical care. That figure was less than 17 percent for men. Men, meanwhile, are more likely to leave the office for "errands or personal reasons." Nearly 20 percent of men reported this as their reason for leaving work, compared to less than 14 percent of women.

Women also appear to be more frugal with their leave hours than men. Workers who adjusted their work schedules or locations instead of taking time off were asked why they did not take leave. 32.4 percent of women who opted not to take leave said they were doing so because they wanted to save it, compared to only 20.3 percent of men.

The Rich and the Best-Educated

Just 13 percent of people without a high school diploma reported taking leave in an average week. Their more educated peers reported being out of the office far more often. Over 21 percent of both high school graduates and people with some college experience took leave in an average week, and over 23 percent of people with a bachelor's degree or higher took leave.

As with public- and private-sector workers, there are also divides here regarding who has the ability to leave the office (and get paid while doing it). Only around half of the lowest earners have access to paid leave, compared to nearly 83 percent of the highest earners.

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Outdoorsy Types

Just over one-third of workers in agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting reported taking leave in an average week, making them the second-most likely workers by industry to get out of the office, just behind public administration (34.9 percent). Retail and construction workers are among the least likely, with only 16.5 percent of wholesale and retail workers and 17.5 percent of construction workers taking leave in any given week. At the very bottom are workers in "other services"­—a wide variety of industries otherwise not covered in the survey: repair and maintenance, laundry services, labor unions, and religious organizations, to name a few. Just under 13 percent of these workers said they took leave during an average week.