What is the Bradford Factor?

The Bradford Factor is a calculation that applies a relative weighting to an employee’s unplanned absences.

Many organisations monitor absences over the course of a running year. The weighting refers to the impact this an event will have on the running of normal business activity. A larger weighting score means the event has a bigger impact. How does it work?

The Bradford Factor uses the following formula: S squared, multiplied by D equals the Bradford Factor.

  • S represents the total number of separate absences by an individual
  • D represents the total number of days of absence of that individual

For example, if a member of staff has three periods of sickness absence in a rolling twelve-month period,

  • Absence 1 lasts for four days
  • Absence 2 lasts for one day
  • Absence 3 lasts for one day

The Bradford Factor calculation will be as follows:

  • 3 separate absences x 3 separate absences = 9
  • 9 x 6 days duration = 54
  • This person’s Bradford Factor = 54

Now let’s compare two different examples to show the difference that the number of absences makes to the Bradford Factor score:

  Janet John
Number of separate sickness absences 6 3
Total number of days absent due to sickness 12 15
Bradford Factor 432 135

In the above example, Janet has a pattern of taking one or two days off sick at a time, and does so quite frequently. Conversely, John has taken fewer instances of sick leave but one of his sick leave periods was for an extended period of time. Even though John took three more days off sick than Janet over the same 12 month period, his Bradford Factor score is significantly lower.

How can you use the Bradford Factor?

HR teams can use the Bradford Factor to help identify and manage employees with problematic absence patterns. To do this you will set trigger points whereby planned actions or interventions are taken. For example, the first intervention could be that when an employee triggers a Bradford Factor of >40 within a 12 month period that HR check-in with the employee and separately their line manager to flag discuss whether there are any underlying problems and the impact on their role and productivity of the team. A higher trigger point might initiate a formal disciplinary process.

The Bradford Factor should be used as a guide to initiate these proceedings but shouldn’t be used as a lazy replacement for understanding an employee’s needs and motivations.

What trigger points should be used with the Bradford Factor?

The specific trigger points set by an organisation need to be considered in their own context, there’s no one-size fits all.

What are the benefits of using the Bradford Factor?

  • It’s quick and easy to do the calculation. It’s available out of the box from most HR solutions, if you had to do it on a bit of paper you could work it out on the spot.
  • It’s impartial. It treats everyone the same and guards against biases and favouritism.
  • By documenting the trigger points  and associated outcomes in advance of implementing the Bradford Factor it forces you to consider the sickness leave policies and impact of problem absences on the wider organisation.

What are the disadvantages of using the Bradford Factor?

  • It might be impartial but that doesn’t make it fair. It treats everyone the same. Employees are individuals and will have different medical histories and different lives and demands placed on them inside and outside of work.

Conclusion

Effective absence management involves finding a balance between providing support to help employees with health problems stay in and return to work and taking consistent and firm action against employees who try to take advantage of organisations’ occupational sick pay schemes.

Creating a fair, effective and legal absence management program therefore is about balance. A plan that deals with employees who are occasionally absent due to good reasons and those who are abusing the system is essential. When creating an absence management strategy, you should consider factors affecting an individual’s absence. Some of these issues are in your direct control as an employer.

You should also look to uncover trends. Do certain departments have fewer absences than others? If you want positive change in your company, be subjective. If there’s a problem across the board, could this be down to your working environment? Your ultimate goal is to achieve a positive culture, including how you as an organisation treat absences.