How to Leverage the Bradford Factor to get a Grip on Employee Absence

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How to Leverage the Bradford Factor to get a Grip on Employee Absence

Human resource practitioners are continuously developing tools and technology to help maximize employee performance to achieve organizational goals more efficiently. One of the most commonly used HR tools today is the Bradford Factor. In this article, I will explain what the Bradford Factor is and why you should use it to manage employee absence.

What is the Bradford Factor?

The Bradford Factor or the Bradford Formula is a simple formula that calculates a score for each employee based on absence patterns. It is based on the theory that operations in an organization are more affected by short unplanned absences as compared to long and planned absences.

The name originated from the Bradford University School of Management where they researched the impact of short absences to businesses back in the 1980s.

Further research has shown that the Bradford Factor can help reduce employee absenteeism if the employees have been educated about the calculation and shown their scores regularly.

It is usually because it increases their awareness of how absences can affect not only the organization but also how their performance is evaluated.

How is the Bradford Factor Computed?

The Bradford Factor is computed using the formula S2 x D = B, where:

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  • B is the Bradford Factor score
  • S is the total number of instances of absence of an individual over a set period
  • D is the total number of days of absence of that individual over the same set period*

*For most organizations, the set period is one year.

High scores usually depict a problem with an employee’s absence pattern. Note that aside from the number of days, the Bradford factor takes into account the number of instances an employee filed for leave.

For instance, Employee X filed three sick leave requests on three different weeks in a month; while Employee Y filed for a three-day consecutive leave in the same month. The first one will have a higher Bradford Factor score even though both employees consumed the same number of leave. Here’s a computation to show the difference in scores of the two employees:

Employee X: 32 x 3 = 27

Employee Y: 12 x 3 = 3

How can organizations take advantage of the Bradford Factor?

The scores serve as a trigger for HR managers and business owners when an employee’s absence pattern is already becoming alarming.

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Some organizations primarily use the Bradford Factor to assign specific consequences for a certain level of Bradford Factor Score or “trigger points.”

Here’s a sample standard scale used by many organizations, including some that I’ve worked with:

Points Action
51 points Verbal Warning
201 points Written Warning
401 points Final Warning
601 points Dismissal

These actions or consequences are usually implemented progressively as shown in the table above.

Ideally, the HR manager should investigate first if there are valid reasons for the recurring short absences of the employees. The HR team can also create a rubrics of the most common reasons for employee absences in the company and assign a grade for each. The rubrics can be a guide in evaluating the believability of the excuses.

If your company doesn’t believe in punishments, educating your employees about the Bradford Factor and informing them of their scores regularly can greatly reduce the absenteeism as observed by companies that have introduced Bradford scoring. This makes employees aware of how they are viewed by their managers and the company.

Additionally, although the Bradford Factor assigns scores on an individual level, HR managers can still see absence patterns among teams or office spaces. HR Managers can check if the scores are particularly high among a team or an office space.

Digging deeper may show that team members of a specific team have been influencing each other to take absence because of their workload, or the team doesn’t have a good working relationship with their direct supervisor, or that a particular space is not conducive to work, causing them to be sickly.

Most of these root causes can be solved by implementing small changes in the office like regularly cleaning the space, re-distributing tasks, training the manager, and changing the office layout among many others.

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Lastly, HR managers can observe absence patterns of the whole organization throughout a set period by computing for the Bradford scores of each month.

By evaluating the company as a whole, you’ll see which months have the most and least absences. A common result of this is finding out which months have the most cases of flu-related absences. This can then help the HR team schedule flu shots for the company. You may also find that short absences often happen during months with a lot of holidays. Instead of filing for leave, you can offer remote work during these months. This can decrease absences and ensure that additional costs for both the employees and employer are kept to a minimum.

Through a thorough analysis of absence patterns among individuals, teams, and across the organization, HR managers will be empowered to implement research-based HR programs that can help reduce employee absences.

Why is the Bradford Factor not enough?

Many organizations tend to forget that the Bradford Factor is not meant to be used as a standalone tool. It is best used as a part of a wider absence management strategy since there are a lot of factors that can affect the frequency of an employee’s absence throughout a given period.

While the Bradford Factor aims to remove the subjectivity in evaluating the absence of employees, organizations can’t deny the fact that not all employees are the same. Take for example employees that are pregnant or have serious medical conditions or disabilities. Their absence patterns tend to be unpredictable due to possible onset of illness or the need to consult a physician. As mentioned previously, there should be a further investigation of every individual before implementing consequences.

Moreover, if the working conditions of an organization are not ideal, the blame can’t be totally placed on the employees only. This is where the value of evaluating and giving proper workload and having occupational health and support services come in.

Since the Bradford Factor is only concerned about short-term absences, it has limited capabilities in analyzing absence trends which include days of the week, shifts, and specific local events.

Therefore, the Bradford Factor should only serve as a first step towards identifying absence problems and corresponding solutions that are unique to every organization.

Wrap up

The Bradford Factor was originally intended to safeguard organizations from the non-genuine absence of employees or those who tend to “throw a sickie.” It has proven to be a useful tool for reaching that goal. At the end of the day, however, employers also have the responsibility to protect the health and well-being of their employees.

This is why the Bradford Factor should not only serve as a trigger for disciplinary action but a trigger for companies to reflect on the things they can change to motivate employees to go to work every day.

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