What is the Bradford Factor and how can it help you manage absenteeism?

15 November 2021
zoom call  with absent coworkers

Every business has them: employees who always seem to be off with something – cold, migraine, sick relative, burst pipe.

These short, frequent, unplanned absences are more disruptive for managers and colleagues than longer-term, less frequent absences. Left unchecked they can be harmful for your business operations and bottom line.

In this blog, we’ll look at a solution that was developed in the 1980s to help employers identify and manage this type of disruption: the Bradford Factor.

What is the Bradford Factor?

The Bradford Factor is a calculation tool used to monitor the frequency of workplace absence. It’s a benchmarking formula that applies a relative weighting to unplanned absence.

The more frequently an employee takes unplanned absences (sickness, emergency leave, childcare etc), the higher their Bradford Factor score will be – indicating a greater negative impact on the business than an employee with a lower score.

The Bradford Factor was designed to protect businesses from these frequent unplanned absences, which are more detrimental to operations than longer-term periods away from work, such as long-term sickness.

How do you calculate a Bradford Factor score?

The Bradford Factor is calculated using a simple formula:

B = S2 x D

B is the Bradford Factor score.
S is the total number of separate absence periods.
D is the total number of days absent.

So, let’s say three employees have each had a total absence over the year of 7 days.

  • Employee 1 was absent for one period of 7 days.
  • Employee 2 was absent for three periods of: two days, then 3 days, then two days.
  • Employee 3 was absent for seven periods of one day each.

Using the Bradford Factor calculator would give you the following scores:

  • Employee 1:
    B = 12 x 7 = 1 x 7
    B = 7
  • Employee 2:
    B = 32 x 7 = 9 x 7
    B = 63
  • Employee 3:
    B = 72 x 7 = 49 x 7
    B = 343.

The Bradford Factor is a quick way of highlighting the relative impact of these three employees’ absences on business operations. Even though they’ve each had the same number of days’ absence, Employee 1 has a good score compared with Employee 3, whose score is considerably higher.

This example illustrates how the Bradford Factor calculator easily differentiates between employees who have had equal numbers of unplanned days off. Employee 1, with a low score, looks like someone who may have had a one-off illness incapacitating them for seven days.

On the other hand, Employee 3’s significantly higher score raises a red flag that something could be wrong. Why is this employee having so many sporadic days off? Are they skiving? Or do they have a health condition that is causing recurrent short-term incapacity?

Whatever the underlying cause, their Bradford Factor score is a clear signal to their manager and HR that some investigation is required.

A Bradford Factor report showing a user’s bradford factor score of 36, based on 7 days worked, with 4 days off spread over 3 instances

What is the Bradford factor used for?

Companies use the Bradford Factor to:

  • Monitor the frequency of individual staff absence. Most HR systems will automatically calculate employees’ Bradford Factor score, making it easy to assess any worrying absence patterns.
  • Start an absence management process once an employee’s Bradford Factor score has reached a pre-set trigger point. The company’s absence procedure will guide managers as to the intervention required at each particular trigger point, from informal conversations and support, through to warnings and ultimately dismissal.
  • Ensure consistency across the board.
  • Guard against favouritism.
  • Provide a sound evidence-base for absence management and disciplinary decisions.

Having a tried and tested, industry-approved formula for monitoring absence is helpful. It can be shared with staff, and ensures transparency.

Is the Bradford Factor legal?

The Bradford Factor has received some criticism in HR circles. Described by trade union Unison as “a blunt instrument that takes little account of what is happening to an individual’s health”, it clearly has to be used with caution.

A bad score may not tell the whole story of an employee’s absence from work. Reliance on a Bradford Factor calculator to discipline an employee would need to be supported by a thorough investigation into the underlying causes for the absence.

As we discussed in our recent “Workplace Absenteeism and Why You Need Absence Management Software” article, there are many potential underlying reasons for an employee’s absenteeism, from mental illness or poor management to job-related stress or being bullied at work.

It’s vital to look into the root causes for persistent absenteeism before making any assumptions based on a high Bradford factor score.

So, while not illegal, an ill-judged use of a Bradford Factor score to subject a worker to a detriment, such as a warning, demotion or dismissal, could result in unwanted and potentially damaging legal consequences. Tribunal and/or court claims for discrimination and/or unfair dismissal would have financial and reputational harm for your business.

What is a good or bad Bradford Factor score?

As we saw in our example of the three employees with the same number of days’ absences but over different periods, the problem the Bradford Factor helps to identify is the frequency of absence.

So as an HR or line manager, you’re hoping for scores that suggest low-frequency time off. The ideal score would be zero, signifying no absences. (But beware that a low score could be masking ‘presenteeism’: an employee who attends work, despite being unfit to do so, because they do not want to risk being penalised for being off work).

Generally, a worker with a score of less than 50 is unlikely to be presenting an absence management problem to the business.

So, a score of 40 for an employee who has had 10 days off over the year means they have been absent on only two occasions (22 x 10 = 40), signifying perhaps two short illnesses of five days each.

It’s up to each individual employer to decide what it considers to be a ‘bad’ score. The key is to be transparent and apply any sanctions consistently across the workforce.

For many employers, a score of over 500 would be ‘bad’, and reasonable grounds to consider dismissal proceedings.

So if the same employee’s 10 days’ absence had occurred over 8 separate periods, their score of 640 (82 x 10 = 640) would flag to the business a genuine concern. Of course, dismissal would only be appropriate after a full investigation and closely following the absence management and disciplinary procedures.

Pros and cons of using the Bradford Factor.

Easy to calculate a score for all staff. Can’t be relied on in isolation.
Quick and easy to use for identifying
problem absences.
Relying on trigger points could
lead to late identifying of issues.
Treats all staff the same with a uniform
calculation across the workforce.
Treating all staff the same does not make it fair.
Highlights absenteeism concerns to
Could discriminate against
disabled employees.

What are the alternatives to using the Bradford Factor?

In our blog article, 7 Proven Ways to Reduce Absenteeism in the Workplace, we highlight some ways to manage absence instead of, or to supplement, the Bradford Factor.

It’s also worth considering:

  • Other calculations to track absences, like lost time rate or frequency rate – or a consolidated approach.
  • Occupational health services.
  • Employee assistance programmes.
  • Mental health support.
  • Bonuses and incentives.
  • Improved communication.

Find out more about how our time and attendance solutions can help you manage and reduce absenteeism in your workplace.