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The Bradford Factor: Everything You Need to Know

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In this article we will share everything you need to know about the Bradford factor: a formula used by HR departments to calculate the impact of an employee’s absences on the organisation. We will look at what it is, how it works and what scores mean. We will also discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using the formula, and what alternative solutions there are for managing staff absences.

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What is Bradford Factor

The Bradford Factor is a simple maths equation that allows companies to track their rates of employee absences. It provides companies with a basic tool for measuring the impact of each unplanned absence on the company. It is based on the theory that short, frequent, unplanned absences are more disruptive to organisations than longer absences. By using the formula, Human Resources departments can monitor unplanned absences, identify any trends, and nip potential issues in the bud before they get out of hand.

Generally speaking, each time an employee is absent, their Bradford factor score increases. And the higher the score, the bigger the likely impact on the company. Most employers set thresholds for when scores should be deemed problematic. The hope behind this is that it will discourage employees from taking unnecessary sick days. If an employee’s score raises a red flag it usually results in some form of intervention. Depending on an employee’s history, this could range from a meeting with HR, a verbal or written warning or, in extreme cases, dismissal.

Although the Bradford factor can be a useful method for measuring and understanding the impact of unplanned absences, it shouldn’t be the only tool you rely on. The formula serves a purpose but it is limited as a stand-alone tool. Instead, you should incorporate it into a wider absence management strategy that takes into account other aspects such as ongoing health issues or disability.

How to Calculate the Bradford Factor

Bradford factor scores are based on the frequency and length of an employee’s absence during a set period. You calculate the score using the following formula:

S x S x D = Bradford Factor score

S represents the number of “spells” or occasions of unauthorised absence over a given timeframe, usually 52 weeks. This number is squared (multiplied by itself).

D represents the total number of days missed over the same period of time (total days missed).

Here’s an example to make it clearer:

Bob has food poisoning in January and takes 5 days off work. Later that year Bob has a minor gardening accident at home and takes a further 4 days off work. He has no other unplanned absences that year.

This means that Bob has had 2 spells of absence, and he was absent for a total of 9 days for that period. His score is 36 and his formula would look like this:

(2 x 2) x 9 = 36

What the Score Means

There are no specific benchmarks for the Bradford factor. It is up to each organisation to set its own trigger points. Generally speaking though, the higher the score, the bigger the negative impact of an employee’s unplanned absences.

Continuing with the example of Bob, 36 would generally be considered a very low score, and certainly not one warranting intervention. However, if another employee, Mary, is absent 9 times that year, each time for only one day, then she will have a much higher score:

(9 x 9) x 9 = 729

Although Bob and Mary have both missed 9 days in a year, Mary’s score is higher because her absences are more frequent than Bob’s. At this point, it would be a good idea for HR to step in to see if there is an underlying issue causing Mary’s frequent absences.

Bradford Factor Advantages

  • Efficiency: you can use it as a simple tool for monitoring absentee issues so that you can react accordingly when needed. Compared to manual tracking, it frees up time that can be spent on high priority issues.
  • Alerts: the formula raises objective red flags that might otherwise go undetected. This can be especially useful for smaller companies where resources might be limited.
  • Reduces absences: it encourages employees to only take unplanned time off when it’s absolutely necessary. This is because they are aware of how a short-term absence can negatively impact their score in the long-term.
  • It’s fair: it is an objective mathematical equation that treats everyone the same. It can help to guard against favouritism within HR departments.

Bradford Factor Disadvantages

  • It’s not efficient: if a company relies solely on the Bradford Factor to monitor unplanned absences then it can lead to bigger problems down the line. Absences can have a big impact on productivity so it is important not to cut corners.
  • Not specific enough: it only accounts for the mathematical nature of absenteeism, not the underlying issues causing it. An employee might have a genuine reason for regularly taking time off, such as a chronic condition or mental health issues. If an employee starts taking regular unplanned time off then you should address the issue with them and offer support, not just wait until their score raises a red flag before you intervene. Be proactive. The employee will also feel valued if you take the time to talk to them.
  • Potentially increases stress: if you set your thresholds too low it could cause undue stress for employees. They might feel pressured to return to work before they have fully recovered from an illness because they are afraid of the negative impact on their score. This could affect the long-term health, well-being and morale of employees.
  • It penalises good workers: if you punish an employee for taking time off for genuine reasons (such as looking after family members) it could be classed as discrimination and lead to legal action (you could be in breach of the Equality Act).
  • It’s not fair: just because you’re treating everyone the same does not mean you are treating everyone fairly. You also need to take into account medical histories, caring responsibilities, and personal circumstances. The fact that the Bradford Factor treats everyone the same is a weakness, not a strength.

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What Is the Best Solution?

Whilst the Bradford Factor can be an efficient way of monitoring absences, it is important to remember that it is just a formula. It doesn’t take into account the underlying reasons for employee absences so it should never be used as a stand-alone tool. You should always treat your employees as people, not numbers. Instead of punishing people for being absent, you should follow a more personal absence management strategy. One that implements proactive measures including a comprehensive absence policy. You should analyse absence data regularly so that you are aware of any issues. Take disciplinary action when needed, and offer support whenever you can. You should also hold regular return to work interviews to discuss any potential issues with employees. This will help to create a culture where people want to go to work. It will also improve morale and overall performance.

Factorial’s Time-Off Management Software

The best way to manage unplanned absences in your company is with reliable time-off management software. This will provide you with access to reliable data so that you can identify potential absence trends (it will also help payroll run more efficiently). You can track absences on a calendar (by absence type) or template and identify repeat offenders. You can also manage your return to work interviews through the software, simplifying the process and minimising errors. This will help you calculate and reduce the true cost of absences in your company. It will also help you stay up to date with all employees whilst providing them with maximum flexibility and independence. Effective absence management software should support the needs of employees and provide HR with consistently reliable data so that the best decisions can be taken for the good of the entire organisation.

Try Factorial’s Time Management Software today for your 14-day free trial!

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