Pros and Cons of the Bradford Factor

What is the Bradford Factor?

The Bradford Factor is a method used by employers and HR professionals looking to objectively calculate rates of absence for all employees.

The end result can also determine how staff absenteeism might be impacting the company.

The Bradford Factor has been around since the eighties and was allegedly given this name because it links to research undertaken by the Bradford University School of Management, who were exploring the theory that frequent, short-term absences are more disruptive to a business than longer-term absences.

This theory has been very heavily debated over the past few years, however, and many would argue that it is an insensitive method which unfairly penalises those who have taken short-term absence.

How is absence calculated using the Bradford Factor?

The method involves using a formula to calculate an individual score for each employee, and the formula itself looks like this:

The Bradford Factor

S represents the number of absence spells one employee has had over a period of time, which is then multiplied by the same number.

D represents the total number of days absent over the same period.

The result of S x S is then multiplied by D and the figure you end up with is your personal score.

For example, two absences which each lasted three days would be calculated like 2 x 2 x 6 = 24.

Bradford Factor trigger points

Generally speaking, the lower the score is, the less likely it is that employees will be subject to warnings or disciplinary action. Most organisations will have what is called a ‘trigger point’, which is the maximum number of points an employee can accumulate before a formal investigation concerning their absence is carried out.The Bradford Factor

High scores (usually 500+) tend to indicate that an employee is using their sick days in a problematic way and this can sometimes lead to instant disciplinary action.

It’s important to remember, however, that every organisation will have a different trigger point for what they consider to be an unreasonable rate of absence and the action they may take will differ.

Who uses the Bradford Factor?

The Bradford Factor is more commonly used by industries in the public sector such as the local authorities, the NHS and public schools, just to name a few.

There are several reasons as to why it is more popular across the public sector than the private sector, with one reason being the fact that the yearly cost of absence per employee stands at £835. This is £313 more expensive than in the private sector (the yearly cost of absence is £522 per employee).

This is a significant difference and could prove to be an incredibly expensive burden on larger public sector organisations, which explains why they take absence management extremely seriously.

95% of public sector organisations are likely to monitor absence levels, compared to only 78% of private sector organisations.The Bradford Factor

Pros of using the Bradford Factor

  1. Efficiency. Smaller companies (which are more likely to feel the pressure of regular absences)with a less equipped HR team would benefit significantly from using the Bradford Factor as it is straightforward to use and will free up time for other higher-priority tasks. Larger-scale companies could also benefit from using it when trying to monitor absence in an objective way, but they would not necessarily feel the strain caused by sickness absence like a small business would.
  2. Reduced absence. As obvious as it may seem, the Bradford Factor really does encourage employees to only take the day off when it is absolutely necessary, and it urges employees to think carefully about how their short-term absences will add up in the long-run.The Bradford Factor

The UK prison service revealed in 2016 that since using the Bradford Factor (coupled with some other measures) they have reduced absenteeism by 25%.

Cons of using the Bradford Factor

  1. It penalises genuine workers. Sometimes absence is unavoidable and to punish loyal workers for taking time off for sincere reasons (such as looking after family members, stress and mental illness) is unfair and it could lead to serious legal action being taken against you (you could be in breach of the Equality Act).

There are some disabilities and medical conditions which make it a lot more likely that the affected employee will need to take short-term absence, and we strongly advise that employers make exceptions and adjustments in this situation. The Bradford Factor does not take into account critical illnesses, such as cancer, and it would be incredibly rare, risky and frowned-upon for employers to penalise an employee with a serious disease.

Example – a nurse takes one day off due to illness, then out of sheer determination and conscientiousness, she returns to work the next day. She didn’t want to miss out on money or lose respect from colleagues, so she made it back in to work, albeit feeling rather stressed about her recent day of sick leave. Her condition deteriorates and she finds that coming back into work has only made her feel worse and actually puts her patients and colleagues at risk of catching illness. She finally decides to go back home at dinner time and spends the rest of the day recovering, but this is then classed as a second absence and ultimately leaves her worse off than if she had stayed off for a whole week. Sickness absence can be a stressful situation for an employee with good intentions, especially when they fear being reprimanded, and this stress could exacerbate ill-health.

  1. Not specific enough. There could be an employee who regularly takes sick leave on particular days, and maybe there are underlying reasons for this but the Bradford Factor will not show you this level of detail. The mathematical nature of the Bradford Factor turns rates of absence into decimal numbers when in reality; absence is a much more complex and personal issue that can’t be accurately measured by a formula.

Are back-to-work interviews more effective?

Back-to-work interviews, also known as return-to-work interviews, are one of the most commonly used methods for managing absence. They are carried out by employers or HR representatives following an employee’s return to work after taking sick leave.The Bradford Factor

The purpose of these informal interviews is to determine, and monitor, the reason for an employee’s absence and to establish whether or not the employee needs assistance in getting back to work.

Although back-to-work interviews are not a legal compulsion for employers, they can help you to keep track of absence and record any patterns which might be occurring over a period of time.

Many would argue that these interviews are much more effective than using the Bradford Factor as more time is dedicated to figuring out the cause of absence for each and every employee, and by using this personalised and caring approach, employers will often find that the employee is not deserving of corrective action.

Employees who are frequently untruthful about their absence will find these interviews difficult, as it involves a face-to-face discussion with an individual of higher authority. Commonly-used excuses and suspicious patterns of absence will also be easier to spot as the interviews are written up afterwards and can be referred to in the future.

By using this method, genuine employees will not be unfairly reprimanded; however, some organisations might struggle with finding the time and staff to carry out these interviews efficiently.

It’s advised that you try and do back-to-work interviews as soon as the employee is back in so that the information provided is as accurate as possible, but we understand that this is difficult for overstretched businesses.The Bradford Factor

If you believe your company and employees would benefit from a having a return-to-work interview process (but you do not have the time, staff or knowledge to do so) please contact PeoplepointHR today.

Do you need help with absence management?

Our team of consultants can assist you with all aspects of absence management, including carrying out a review of your current absence management system and identifying any vulnerabilities. Absence can be costly and damaging to your business, but it must be handled with fairness and in a way that aims to determine the legitimacy of employees.