Understanding the Bradford Factor

The Bradford Factor occupational health

Understanding the Bradford Factor

The Bradford Factor is a tool used by employers to measure the impact of employee absence on the organization. It is a formula that takes into account the frequency, duration and pattern of an employee’s absences over a set period of time.

The Bradford Factor is often used by employers as a means of monitoring and managing absenteeism. It can help identify employees with a high level of short-term absence and trigger a review of their attendance patterns and the reasons for their absence.

The formula typically used to calculate the Bradford Factor is: B = S² x D, where S represents the number of spells of absence and D represents the total number of days absent during the set period. The formula was originally developed in the 1980s by two industrial psychologists, J. E. Redman and P. M. Dickinson, at the University of Bradford in the UK.

A high Bradford Factor score suggests that an employee has had a large number of short-term absences, which can have a significant impact on any organisation. Some businesses use a Bradford Factor score as a “trigger” to begin a sickness absence management process. For example, hitting a score of 250 points leads to a management review.

This is how 10 days of absence could be shown as a Bradford Factor score:

  • 1 instance of absence with a duration of ten days (1 × 1 × 10) = 10 points
  • 2 instances of absence, each of five days (2 × 2 × 10) = 40 points
  • 5 instances of absence, each of two days (5 × 5 × 10) = 250 points
  • 10 instances of absence, each of one day (10 × 10 × 10) = 1000 points

Using the scoring system can lead to a discussion with the employee about their attendance. That can lead to the provision of support to address any underlying issues that may be contributing to their absence. Following the ACAS Code is critical in these steps.

Risks to using the Bradford Factor

Although a sickness absence score applying to everyone in a business may seem a fair way of managing absences, there are some notable weaknesses to using the approach.

The formula does not consider disabilities which may result in short term absences, which have legal considerations, such as epilepsy or autism. It also does not consider or serious but recoverable illnesses such as cancer.

There are several other possible problems associated with using the formula to help manage absence:

  1. Misinterpretation of data: the Bradford Factor is based on a mathematical formula and results can be misinterpreted or used to draw incorrect conclusions about an employee’s absence record.
  2. Inadequate assessment of causes: the Bradford Factor does not take into account the reasons for an employee’s absence and can lead to an incorrect assessment of the situation.
  3. Unfair treatment: using the Factor may result in employees being unfairly penalised for short-term absences, even if they have a valid reason for being off work.
  4. Negative impact on morale: using the Factor can have a negative impact on employee morale and motivation, particularly if employees feel that their absence record is being used against them.
  5. Lack of transparency: the use of the Bradford Factor can sometimes lack transparency, making it difficult for employees to understand how their absence record is being used and assessed.

It’s important for businesses to weigh these risks carefully when considering the use of the Bradford Factor. It may be helpful to use it in conjunction with other measures and to take a holistic approach to assessing employee absence, taking into account factors such as the reasons for absence and the employee’s overall performance.

It is important to note that the Bradford Factor is not a measure of an individual’s overall attendance record and should not be used as the sole basis for disciplinary action.

Alternatives to using the Bradford Factor

There are some steps that any employer can consider using alongside, or as an alternative to using the Bradford Factor.

  1. Average number of days absent: a simple measure of the average number of days an employee has been absent over a specific period, such as a year.
  2. Absence rate: measuring the proportion of employees who have been absent during a specific period, expressed as a percentage of the total workforce.
  3. Number of instances of absence: measures the number of separate instances of absence an employee has taken during a specific period, regardless of the duration of each absence.
  4. Absence history: keeping a clear record of employee absences, the reasons for absence and the duration of absence. This can provide a straightforward and transparent view of absence patterns.
  5. Return to work interviews: return to work interviews can be used to discuss the reasons for absence, any support that may be needed and to agree on a plan to reduce future absence.
  6. Employee well-being plans: focusing on employee well-being and promoting a healthy work-life balance can help reduce absence and promote a positive work environment.
  7. Employee engagement: encouraging employees to provide feedback on work-related stressors can help identify causes of stress (a big reason for sickness absences) and ways to reduce it.
  8. Mediation and conflict resolution: providing access to support for employees to resolve workplace conflicts or issues that may be causing stress can reduce absence and improve well-being.

These alternatives can offer a more comprehensive approach to managing employee absence, rather than relying on a single numerical value.  

Although the Bradford Factor can be incredibly helpful in managing sickness absence, it is just one tool among many that employers can use to manage absence effectively. It is likely to be most effective if it is used in conjunction with other measures, such as regular attendance monitoring and supportive management.



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