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The Bradford Factor: On a path to tackling absenteeism

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Absenteeism is an issue that needs attention. We're not talking about holidays and unexpected absences, but regular, unplanned absences from work, usually without a valid reason.

It’s estimated that staff absenteeism cost UK employers £3.7 billion in 2023 – an increase from £2.5 billion in 2021. It's not just the finances of a company that it impacts, but overall employee morale and productivity.

There are tools available to help quantify and analyse absenteeism to improve its impacts. Without these tools, companies continue to be affected by absenteeism and fall into a cycle of unhappy and unproductive employees.

One tool gaining popularity is the Bradford Factor, designed to highlight the disruption absenteeism has on the workforce.

Don't worry if you don't know anything about it yet, by the end of this article we're confident you'll have the knowledge you need to implement it. Let's get into it.

What is the Bradford Factor?

The Bradford Factor

The Bradford Factor helps businesses to quantify employee absence levels. It's formula calculates the frequency and duration of an employee's non-attendance.

Represented usually as a single figure, the Bradford Factor showcases the disruptive effect frequent short-term absences can have on businesses and their operations.

The formula can seem complicated but it's simple when you know how to interpret it.

The Bradford Factor score is generated by squaring the total number of separate absence instances (S) and then multiplying by the total number of days absent (D). The formula stands as S²D.

More on this later.

By using this formula, you can also set your own Bradford Factor trigger points.

Businesses often use these to set specific thresholds that, if exceeded by an employee's Bradford Factor score, lead to a review of their absence record or similar action.

It takes the guesswork out and ensures all employees are held to the same standard when it comes to them being absent from work.

Importance of the Bradford Factor in HR

Monitoring absenteeism

The Bradford Factor looks at the frequency and duration of absences and can point to patterns of absenteeism. It plays a crucial role in determining the disruptiveness of those absences.

Here's a simple way to look at it: A few long-term absences are seen as less disruptive than frequent short-term absences.

A Bradford Factor calculator helps in quantifying absences' frequency and duration and gives you a score based on those factors.

Impact on employee absence management

Trigger points created by using the Bradford Factor allow businesses to identify potential issues (triggers) before they become a larger problem.

Essentially, they are pre-set thresholds which, when exceeded, trigger disciplinary action or review. This review may be a meeting with the concerned employee to address their frequent short-term absences, for example. By doing this, the Bradford Factor trigger points set the foundation for an effective, fair, and consistent employee management strategy.

Pros and cons of the Bradford Factor

As with most tools, it has benefits and limitations.

One major benefit is the accuracy of absenteeism that it monitors. With the Bradford formula, you get a precise calculation by looking at both the frequency and duration of absences. By using a Bradford Factor calculator, it becomes easier to process these calculations.

  1. Objective absence management is another notable benefit. The Bradford Factor enables impartiality when handling absences, making sure the policy is fair for all employees.
  2. Enhanced work environment. Understanding your Bradford Factor can aid in creating a healthier work environment by having transparent, reflective employee management strategies.
  3. Fine-tuned decision-making is possible by using the Bradford Factor, as it allows those who use it to make informed decisions, thanks to the accurate calculation of both the duration and frequency of absences.

On the other hand, there are a few cons to using the tool.

  1. Single metric dependence is one potential downside. Solely depending on Bradford Factor scores can lead to overlooking factors like the causes of absence or a dip in staff morale.
  2. Potential for misinterpretation can arise from misunderstandings of trigger points, which could lead to the unfair treatment of some employees. Clear communication between the HR department and staff is crucial in mitigating this risk.
  3. Reliance on accurate data is another con from using this tool. The Bradford Factor formula needs accurate absence reports for proper functioning. Any errors or inaccuracies might result in inappropriate scoring.

For more precise calculations, consider using a Bradford Factor Calculator.

As with any tool, they're great to a certain point and should always be used alongside human judgement. You know your team best and know what will work for them.

How do you calculate Bradford Factor scores?

Step-by-step calculation of the Bradford Factor

The formula looks like this:

S is the total number of separate absences by an individual over a set period.

D is the total number of days of absence over the same period.

B is your Bradford Factor score.

This is usually calculated over a 52-week period.

Bradford Factor score examples

Let's take a look at a few Bradford Factor Score examples:

  • Benjamin's case: Benjamin had five instances of one-day absences. Their Bradford Factor Score would therefore be (5² x 5) = 125.
  • Marianne's case: Marianne, on the other hand, had a single five-day absence, so their score would be (1² x 5) = 5.

The Bradford Factor is designed to highlight the often-overlooked disruption caused by frequent short-term absences over longer but less frequent ones, meaning frequent sporadic absences are more impactful to the score.

What is a 'good' or 'bad' Bradford score?

You might think a lower score is ‘good’ because it suggests fewer instances of absence and a high Bradford score is 'bad'.

If your company has that mentality, you could find that employees may prolong their absence to reduce their Bradford Factor score, which counteracts the work the Bradford score is trying to solve.

Good Bradford Factor score

A Bradford Factor score below 50 typically denotes regular attendance, where incidents of absence are infrequent and do not considerably disrupt operations. This is usually considered an acceptable rate, as it shows an employee's reliability and commitment.

Here's an example: If an employee is absent three times in a year for a total of three days. A Bradford Factor calculation for this would be (3²x3) = 27, which is a reasonable score that should not raise concern.

Bad Bradford Factor score

While companies can set their Bradford Factor trigger points, a score above 100 often raises eyebrows as it signifies frequent and disruptive absences.

A score exceeding 200, suggests quite a poor attendance record and can allude to further issues, necessary interventions or dismissal.

As mentioned above, always use human judgment when analysing your team's scores. Other factors may be in play with a person's score and that is up to their manager to assess and offer support if needed.

Implementing the Bradford Factor

Trigger points are a great way to set perimeters for absences. They should be unique to your company and should align with your company's culture and mission.

It's good to look at the data from the past few years and calculate your employee's scores (or a sample group if you're in a large company). Work out the average and see what you think a realistic trigger point would be based on that data.

If you don't have access to that data, as mentioned above under 50 is the typical score for an average person. It might be worth implementing a trigger point above that score, then reassessing after a 52 week period.

Once you have your trigger points set, you then need to develop a policy for use, so you and your employees know what happens when those trigger points are met. The key to this is communication.

The policy must outline the computation method, the role of the Bradford factor in managing absences, and the implications of various trigger points. This is all about creating policies that are fair for all employees.

Troubleshooting common issues

Dealing with frequent short-term absences

Frequent short-term absences significantly increase the Bradford Factor score. Though these occurrences might not seem like much individually, they accumulate over time and can point to an alarming pattern of absence. The Bradford Factor score rises with each additional absence instance so early intervention is crucial.

First, work to identify the employees with high rates of short-term absences. Once identified, set up structured, confidential and empathetic discussions with these employees to understand the driving factors behind these absences. Then use this knowledge to develop unique and tailored attendance management strategies that target the root cause.

For example, if your team feedback that they are consistently stressed and burnt out and need to take those days to recoup, implement wellness programs or flexible working schedules to support them. Listen to your team as they'll be able to provide insights into what is working and what isn't.

Handling exceptional circumstances

Exceptional circumstances can pose a unique set of challenges when using the Bradford Factor model. These can range from chronic medical conditions requiring frequent absences to unexpected life events.

To ensure your team all feel that they are being treated fairly, think about establishing separate trigger points for normal and exceptional circumstances and allow for higher leeway in the latter. Life happens and your team should feel supported through all of it.

By doing this, not only will you boost team morale and productivity but you will also be recognised as a great place to work by your employees as it shows a human-lead approach to management.

While the Bradford Factor aids in efficient data management, the human factor and understanding the circumstances should always guide decision-making.

Use the tool to assist with the data, while you manage your amazing team!

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