Keeping on top of employee absences can be tricky and knowing when to step in and take action isn’t always easy. That’s why some companies turn to the Bradford Factor to monitor staff absence rates and understand the impact that these are having on their business.

On the one hand, the Bradford Factor can be viewed as a fair and effective measurement that reduces the administrative burden on HR teams. However, total reliance on this method can lead to indirect discrimination and damage to an employee’s morale and performance.

Clearly, there are pros and cons to implementing the Bradford Factor within a workplace. We’ll explain more about these later, but first of all, what exactly is the Bradford Factor? And how does it work? Read on to find out..

What is the Bradford Factor?

The Bradford Factor – also known as the Bradford Index or the Bradford Scale – is a simple and effective method of tracking staff absence rates. The process uses a basic equation alongside a system of trigger points and scores to highlight when staff members are absent too often. The higher the Bradford Factor score of an employee, the bigger the issue of the absence pattern.

The method takes its name from a 1980s research paper published by the Bradford University School of Management and is used to help employers understand the effects of staff absence on business. Underpinning the Bradford Factor is the belief that short, frequent and unplanned absences are more disruptive to the running of an organisation than longer, more infrequent absences.

There are different types of unplanned absences that can be monitored by the Bradford Factor scale. These include sick days, doctor or hospital appointments, family emergencies and general unauthorised absences.

How does it work?

To calculate the Bradford Factor and produce a score for an employee, a simple formula is followed:

Bradford Formula

S² x D = B

In this equation:

S = the total number of separate absences by an employee over a given timeframe (usually a year)

D = the total number of days of absence of that employee over the same timeframe

B = the employee’s Bradford Factor score

Putting this into practice, an example would be:

Employee A takes one absence totalling twelve days. Their Bradford Factor score would be 1x1x12 = 12. This is a low score, which would be unlikely to lead to any disciplinary action.

Meanwhile, employee B takes one day off per month over a twelve-month period. Their Bradford Factor score would be 12x12x12 = 1,728. With a far higher score than employee A, the Bradford Factor method suggests that employee B’s absences would have a significantly worse impact on business.

The Bradford Scale calculator takes into account just the days an employee is due to be working. So, it will only include weekends and public holidays if the staff member in question has been scheduled to work on those days and is absent.

Once calculated, an employee’s Bradford Factor score can be assessed against a system of trigger points that, when met, will lead to a certain action being taken by management. Where those trigger points lie and the result of meeting each one is individual to a company.

Nonetheless, there are some common consequences used by organisations. For example, meeting a lower trigger point could lead to an informal chat with a line manager. As the points increase, an employee could find themselves with a written warning or a formal disciplinary. Ultimately, reaching the highest trigger point on the scale may lead to a dismissal from the company.

The Bradford Factor is legal to use and employers have the right to take action against employees with repeated unauthorised absences. However, employers must ensure that the consequences of each trigger point are fair and reasonable.

An online Bradford Factor calculator can be used to ease the process and reduce the risk of human error.

What are the Bradford Factor advantages?

Implementing the Bradford Factor within a company can provide some benefits for an HR team. Firstly, this is because it can be viewed as an efficient method of monitoring absences. It doesn’t take long to calculate and the process can be automated easily, with the Bradford Factor calculator accessible online. Some HR software even comes with the formula built into its framework.

Moreover, using the same mathematical equation to track all staff absences seems like a fair and just system. It mitigates the risk of favouritism within the workplace and ensures that everybody is treated in the same way.

What are the Bradford Factor disadvantages?

While the Bradford Factor may cut time and costs for an organisation, it also raises some key issues. The main problem with using the Bradford Factor formula is that it dehumanises employees, treating each one as a piece of data rather than a real person.

No two employees are the same, and it’s crucial that personal circumstances are taken into consideration when monitoring absences. For example, an employee might suffer with chronic poor health, disabilities, mental health problems or be a carer for a family member. In these instances, it’s likely that their absences would be above average through no fault of their own. Rather than penalising staff members across the board, the trigger points for consequences can be adjusted to ensure a fairer outcome for all.

If a staff member is regularly late for work or absent, there might be a deeper issue at play. Perhaps they are undergoing personal difficulties, or there is discontent with the workplace environment. Managers should dedicate time to discussing these problems with employees, in the hope that they can work together to solve them. This can benefit both the worker – who will feel listened to and valued within the organisation – and the business if the conversation leads to an improvement in attendance.

What’s more, over reliance on the Bradford Factor chart can be damaging for a team’s morale and performance. Troubled by thoughts of their increasing Bradford Factor score, an unwell employee may feel anxious and pressured to return to the office. Rather than recovering fully, they may become sicker and therefore have to take further days off. In such cases, the organisation and the employee will suffer – the staff member will feel that they have been punished for their good intentions of returning to the office, while the company will lose a valued worker for longer than was necessary.

How can an HRIS help?

As an alternative to the Bradford Factor, implementing an HRIS can ensure the efficient management of employee absences. For example, the Humaans Absence Tracking function provides a simple and flexible overview of staff absence rates within an organisation. It enables managers to track time off and administer leave with ease, supporting multiple types of leave including paid time off, sick days and mental health days.

An HRIS absence tracking system not only increases efficiency and reduces admin but ensures company compliance when it comes to hours worked and time off. With less time spent on administrative duties and compliance burdens eased, more attention can be dedicated to ensuring employees are satisfied and performing at their best.

Ultimately, managers should weigh up whether implementing the Bradford Factor formula will benefit their employees and their organisation. While it can be perceived as a fair way of assessing staff absences - and save time for HR teams - there are multiple Bradford Factor loopholes that need to be taken into consideration. The Bradford Factor struggles to acknowledge the varying medical needs and personal circumstances of staff, and places unwelcome pressure on those who are absent.

Rather than penalising a team member for clocking up regular absences, it’s important to get to the root of the problem. By working with employees to solve these issues - and implementing an HRIS to reliably track time off - managers can encourage improved performance and attendance. This will have a positive impact on the morale and satisfaction of the team, and therefore the successful running of the business.

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