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Utilization Rate

Guide to Understanding the Utilization Rate Concept

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Utilization Rate

In This Article
  • What is the definition of the utilization rate?
  • Which formula calculates the utilization rate?
  • What insights are obtained from tracking the utilization rate?
  • What do the capacity utilization, optimal billing rate, and ideal utilization rate each measure?

How to Calculate the Utilization Rate

The utilization rate measures the percentage of an employee’s total working hours that is spent on productive work for clients.

The utilization rate is defined as the percentage of an employee’s total working hours spent productively, i.e. the hours billable to a client.

Utilization is the amount of an employee’s total available time — i.e. work capacity — used for productive work that is billable to clients, expressed as a percentage.

Time is a constraint, so ensuring each hour is spent efficiently with limited waste is crucial for productivity.

In particular, companies with business models oriented around billing clients by the hour — e.g. consulting firms, law firms, and marketing agencies — must confirm their hourly rate sufficiently covers all their expenses to be profitable.

Calculating the utilization rate consists of dividing an employee’s total billable hours by the total available hours.

Utilization Rate Formula

The formula for calculating the utilization rate is as follows.

Utilization Rate Formula
  • Utilization Rate = Total Billable Hours ÷ Total Available Hours

In order to express the utilization rate in percentage form, the resulting figure should be multiplied by 100.

With the insights derived from the utilization rate, a company’s management team can set pricing, hire new employees, and offer salaries where profit margins are maximized.

Employee Utilization Rate Calculation Example

Suppose an employee is paid on the expectation of logging 40 hours of work per week.

If that employee billed clients for 34 of those hours, the utilization rate for the week is 85%.

  • Utilization Rate = 34 Hours ÷ 40 Hours = .85, or 85%

Therefore, if that employee were to hypothetically work 1,800 hours (i.e. the total available hours), the number of billable hours to clients would be estimated at 1,530.

  • Total Billable Hours = 1,800 Hours × 85% Utilization Rate = 1,530

Employee Utilization Rate Calculator

Utilization Rate Calculator – Excel Template

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Interpreting the Utilization Rate

For the most part, a higher utilization rate is preferable, as it means more hours are being spent in a time-efficient manner.

Yet, if a company’s utilization rate is consistently near or even at 100%, that implies the employees could be overworked and are close to burnout.

While spending too much time on non-billable hours and unproductive tasks signals a need for improved operational measures, there must be a balance between remaining on task most of the time and ensuring high employee morale.

Otherwise, even if the employees are technically “efficient,” their work quality will start to show signs of deterioration, which will inevitably be noticed by clients.

Utilization Rate and Organization Position

The utilization rate varies by role as well as position (i.e. rank in the organization hierarchy).

Top executives and upper-level employees generally have lower utilization rates — which does not mean that they are less efficient, but that more of their time is allocated towards winning client work, managing employees, internal planning, delegating work, etc.

For instance, eating dinner with a client to pitch their team’s services does not count as billable work, but is how the project pipeline is built to obtain client work later.

Further down the hierarchy structure, “front-line” employees are expected to have higher utilization rates since their responsibility is client-facing (i.e. directly working with clients).

Capacity Utilization Rate Formula

The capacity utilization rate is the utilization rate for a company’s average employee, making it more encompassing as all employees are accounted for rather than just one individual.

The formula for the capacity utilization rate consists of dividing all employee utilization rates by the total number of employees.

Capacity Utilization Rate Formula
  • Capacity Utilization Rate = Total Employee Utilization Rates ÷ Total Number of Employees

While the utilization rate can be used to identify underperforming employees and operational weaknesses, the success of an enterprise is largely contingent on the capacity utilization rate — albeit the two are closely interconnected.

More specifically, the efficiency of one employee cannot offset the inefficient, unproductive work of others, particularly in larger companies.

Plus, ineffective team workload management where there is significant reliance on only a handful of employees to produce most of the output is frequently the cause of an employee burning themselves out.

Optimal Billing Rate Formula

After a company’s utilization rate has been calculated, the next step is to determine how much to charge clients (i.e. hourly rate) to meet the profit margin target, i.e. the optimal billing rate.

The optimal billing rate is the hourly rate that an enterprise needs to charge to turn a profit based on the average employee utilization rate.

Optimal Billing Rate Formula
  • Optimal Billing Rate = [(Labor Costs + Overhead Costs + Profit Margin) ÷ (Total Labor Hours)] ÷ Capacity Utilization Rate

Suppose a company’s total labor costs are $100,000, there are $20,000 in overhead costs per employee, and the target profit margin is 20%.

  • Labor Costs = $100,000
  • Overhead Costs Per Employee = $20,000
  • Target Profit Margin = 20%

Note how the numerator must be adjusted, i.e. the sum ($144,000) must be divided by the total average labor hours (1,000).

If the total labor hours are 1,000, then the numerator equals 144

  • [$100,000 + $20,000 + (20% × $120,000)] ÷ 1,000 = 144

Then, assuming a capacity utilization rate of 80%, the optimal billing rate comes out to $180.00 per hour.

  • Optimal Billing Rate = 144 ÷ 80% = $180.00

Ideal Utilization Rate Formula

The ideal utilization rate can be derived using a target billing rate — which is set based on the average employee utilization rate and optimal billing rate, among other factors — where its target profit margin is met.

The ideal utilization rate divides the sum of its resource costs, overhead costs, and profit margin by the total available hours multiplied by the optimal billing rate.

Ideal Utilization Rate
  • Ideal Utilization Rate = (Resource Costs + Overhead Costs + Profit Margin) ÷ (Total Available Hours × Optimal Billing Rate)

Given the same assumptions as in the previous example, the ideal utilization rate is 80%.

  • Ideal Utilization Rate = $144,000 ÷ (1,000 × 80%)
  • Ideal Utilization Rate = $144,000 ÷ 180,000 = 80%

The 80% represents an enterprise’s optimal utilization rate to meet its target profit margin, which would then be compared to its capacity utilization to determine if any operational improvements are necessary.

Optimal and Ideal Utilization Rate Calculator

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