Absence management: what is the Bradford Factor?

Posted on Thursday, 4th Jul '24

Anthony Wolny by Anthony Wolny


Absences are an unavoidable part of workplace management.

At one point or another, situations will arise – whether that’s sickness, emergencies or personal responsibilities – and your staff will need time off.

As such, businesses need a good absence management framework to support employees and they must provide clear and consistent guidance.

One way HR professionals track the level of absences is the Bradford Factor.

But what exactly is the Bradford Factor, and is it the right methodology to use?

Scene setting: absences are on the rise

The need for good absence management procedures is cemented by the recent soar in workplace absences.

According to the CIPD, workplace absences are the highest they’ve been in over a decade.

The research found that UK employees, on average, took 7.8 days off over the past year – an increase of two days when compared to the pre-pandemic rate of 5.8 days.

Top causes of absences

According to the research from CIPD, the main causes of short-term absences are:

  • Minor illness
  • Musculoskeletal injuries
  • Mental ill health

As for long-term absences, the top causes are similar:

  • Mental ill health
  • Acute medical conditions
  • Musculoskeletal injuries

What is the Bradford Factor?

The Bradford Factor is a methodology used to measure and manage employee absenteeism.

It’s based on the principle that frequent, short-term absences are more disruptive to businesses than occasional, longer-term issues.

Via the Bradford Factor, you multiply the number of absences squared by the total days absent.

This metric helps businesses identify patterns of frequent absenteeism, which in theory, enables them to address potential issues and reduce disruption.

How to calculate the Bradford Factor

The calculation formula is S² x D, where S is the number of absences and D is the total number of days absent over a defined period.

The number outputted from this calculation can then be compared against the Bradford Factor Scales to determine if there is reason for concern.

You can find a Bradford Factor calculator here.

What are the Bradford Factor Scales?

The Bradford Factor scales are a set of outlines used to determine if an employee’s absenteeism is problematic.

These scales can vary from business to business, but generally, high scores indicate reason for concern.

Typically, scores below 50 are normally considered low and not cause for immediate concern, while scores between 50 and 200 could trigger a warning or further monitoring.

On the other hand, scores above 200 typically would lead to more serious actions, such as formal meetings or disciplinary measures.

Bradford Factor example calculations

Let’s look at some examples of Bradford Factor calculations.

Employee A is absent once during the year for eight days. As such, their Bradford Factor Score is (1×1) x 8 = 8.

Employee B, on the other hand, is absent twice in the year for four days at a time. As such, their Bradford Factor Score is (2×2) x 8 = 32.

As for Employee C, they are absent eight times in the year for one day at a time. As such, their Bradford Factor Score is (8×8) x 8 = 512.

Should you use the Bradford Factor?

While the Bradford Factor was created to help businesses better understand short-term absences, it can unfairly penalise employees, in particular those with health conditions.

For example, an employee diagnosed with a medical condition – such as cancer – may require regular short-term absences for hospital appointments.

Businesses should safeguard these employees, not penalise them.

A couple of alternatives to the Bradford Factor include:

The ‘lost time’ rate helps you understand the percentage of time that has been lost from absence. You can split this by department to pinpoint areas of concern. 

Total absence (hours or days) in the period / Possible total (hours or days) in the period x 100.

The ‘frequency rate’ shows how many absences each employee has taken as a percentage. 

Number of spells of absence in the period / The number of employees x 100.

Note: absences are ultimately unavoidable – rather than penalising staff, focus on support and understanding.

The importance of absence policies

If you haven’t created an absence policy for your business, you need to.

This should have sections describing how your business deals with the different types of absences.

Consider a number of things in the policy.

These include internal mechanisms (like whom someone calls when they’re off sick) as well as what will trigger a formal review of someone’s absence (sometimes called a trigger point system).  

If you already have a policy, regularly review it to see if it’s clear, accessible and up to date. 

We would also add that it’s not enough to put all this on paper; staff need training in absence management to properly deliver on your policies.  

A guide to absence management

Whether you have an absence system in place or you’re thinking about creating one, it’s important to ask yourself the following: 

How does my business deal with absences – sickness or otherwise – and how do we put a system in place to look after staff and our business? 

Even better, you could also ask another question: how can our business stop some absences from happening? 

In our handy FREE guide, we cover these questions, looking at:

  • The different types of absence 
  • Presenteeism  
  • Good policies  
  • Best practice 
  • Possible solutions 

Download our handy guide to absence management here.

Anthony Wolny, July 4th, 2024

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