The economic downturn and rising jobless rate appear to have put a brake on employee absences. Rates of employee absences through 2009 are at the lowest recorded since 1985, the year legal and business publisher BNA began its quarterly survey of employers. Falling beneath the 2008 low of 0.9 percent of scheduled worker days per month, the median absence rate in 2009 averaged 0.7 percent. Absence rates have declined consistently since 2005, when they averaged 1.5 percent of scheduled worker days.

Year-over year absence rates declined in non-business and manufacturing organizations, but were stable in nonmanufacturing concerns. Absences tended to be lower in smaller than in larger organizations. Regionally, median monthly absence rates from 2008 to 2009 fell two-tenths of a point in the Northeast (from 0.9 percent to 0.7 percent) and three-tenths of a point in the North Central states (from 1.1 percent to 0.8 percent). There was no change in the South (0.7 percent), while in the West, median monthly absence rates increased only marginally, from 1.1 percent to 1.2 percent.

Similarly, employee turnover (voluntary median monthly separation rates excluding layoffs, reductions-in-force, and departures of temporary staff), in tandem with slowing economic growth and rising rates of unemployment, has plunged from 1.0 percent of employers' workforces per month in 2008 to 0.5 percent in 2009. The weakening economy and job market appeared to discourage employees from seeking other job opportunities, as turnover rates shrank for employers in every category of industry and workforce size, and in every region of the country.

Median monthly turnover rates from January through December 2009 averaged 0.5 percent, down one-half of a percentage point from the median monthly rate of 1.0 percent observed in 2008. Comparisons of turnover rates in 2008 to 2009 show declines across all major industry sectors. There were steeper declines in turnover in smaller than in larger organizations. Regionally, median monthly turnover rates from 2008 to 2009 declined a half percentage point in the Northeast (from 1.0 percent to 0.5 percent), the South (from 1.1 percent to 0.6 percent), and in the North Central states (from 1.0 to 0.5 percent). Seven-tenths of a point declines in turnover were observed in the West (from 1.1 percent to 0.4 percent).

BNA's survey of job absence and turnover has been conducted quarterly since 1985. This report is based on responses from 267 human resource and employee relations executives representing a cross-section of U.S. employers, both public and private. Total employment of the reporting organizations: 860, 516.