Business owners and HR managers are always looking for ways to boost efficiency while making sure that their staff are treated fairly.
On paper, the Bradford Factor appears to do just that, allowing managers to calculate a score for each of their staff and determine how their use of sick days might be impacting the company.
But how exactly is a Bradford Factor score calculated? And is it even legal to use a formula as a basis for evaluating, or even dismissing, staff?
Today, we’re exploring these issues and more, bringing together the most frequently asked questions about the Bradford Factor and offering up some helpful tips for HR managers and small business owners alike.
This article was originally published in February 2017. It was updated in March 2023.
What is the Bradford Factor?
Why is it called the Bradford Factor?
How do I calculate a Bradford Factor score?
What is a “bad” Bradford Factor score?
Are frequent absences really more damaging than longer ones?
Is it legal to use the Bradford Factor as a basis for dismissal?
Why is the Bradford Factor controversial?
Should I use the Bradford Factor for my business?
Tips for using the Bradford Factor effectively
The Bradford Factor in RotaCloud
Q: What is the Bradford Factor?
The Bradford Factor is a method of determining the impact of staff absenteeism based on the theory that frequent bouts of short, unplanned absence have drastically more impact on a business than longer absences.
Q: Why is it called the Bradford Factor?
It’s thought that the formula is a result of research carried out by a team at Bradford University School of Management, but no one professional body or person explicitly lays claim to the term.
The Bradford Factor is sometimes referred to as the Bradford Formula or Bradford Index.
Q: How do I calculate a Bradford Factor score?
Rather than just tallying up the number of days an employee has called in sick, the Bradford Factor multiplies the number of instances, or “spells”, of unplanned absence by the total number of days taken off work.
Here's a simple calculator:
The Bradford Factor formula itself is: S² x D = B.
This means that the number of spells of absence (S) is multiplied by itself, with that number then multiplied by the total number of days a person was absent (D) during a 52-week period.
If Jeff calls in sick six times (S = 6), taking two days off on one occasion and one day on each of the other five (therefore D = 7), then his Bradford Factor score would be 252 (because 6 x 6 x 7 = 252).
Meanwhile, if Amelia has only two spells of absence in the same year, but takes more days off (three days on one occasion and six days on the second), then her Bradford Factor score would be 36 (2 x 2 x 9 = 36).
According to the theory, even though Amy took two more days off than Jeff, her Bradford Factor score is significantly lower (36 versus 252) because her absences were less frequent.
Although it's possible to calculate employees' Bradford Factor scores manually, many businesses now make use of people management software like RotaCloud, which allows managers to generate reports listing employees' Bradford Factor scores in a matter of seconds. We'll talk more about this later.
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Q: What is a “bad” Bradford Factor score?
Bradford Factor trigger levels are completely flexible and vary from company to company, so it’s hard to identify a “good” or “bad” score.
An example of possible trigger points could be as follows:
0–50 points: No action is taken
51–124 points: Issue a verbal warning
125–399 points: Issue a written warning
400–649 points: Issue a final written warning.
650+ points: The employee is dismissed.
Returning to the above example, Jeff (who was absent on six separate occasions and scored 252) would be given a written warning about his absenteeism if judged on this scale.
Q: Are frequent absences really more damaging for a business than longer ones?
Whatever your opinion of the formula itself, the thinking behind the Bradford Factor — that frequent short absences are more detrimental to a business than fewer long absences — is fairly sound.
When a member of staff calls in sick, there’s little that a smaller business owner can do besides try to pick up the slack.
This could mean anything from calling your off-duty staff and asking if they can cover the shift at short notice, to taking on the work yourself and hoping that it doesn’t impact your other duties.
But if, for example, a member of kitchen staff suddenly comes down with gastric flu or breaks their arm, then their manager may be able to secure a replacement, knowing that their employee will be out for several days or more.
In truth, the basis on which the Bradford Factor's formula was originally formed is not entirely clear, with no single body laying claim to the theory.
But considering that sickness absence is estimated to cost UK businesses almost £16 billion a year, it’s not surprising that so many employers will consider using the Bradford Factor as a means of identifying the kind of absences that are the most financially draining.
Q: Is it legal to use the Bradford Factor as a basis for dismissal?
Providing that a company sets trigger points that are realistic, it’s entirely legal for managers to use Bradford Factor scores as a basis for taking action against employees who are frequently absent.
A word of warning, however: some disabilities and illnesses may prevent a person from coming to work on occasion, thus negatively skewing their Bradford Factor score. To dismiss an such an employee would be hugely unfair, not to mention in violation of the Equality Act 2010.
Q: Why is the Bradford Factor controversial?
The Bradford Factor is sometimes considered controversial because it's often used as an inflexible disciplinary tool without taking into account an employee’s unique circumstances, such as chronic illnesses or disabilities, as mentioned above.
As well as not taking into account individual circumstances, it also doesn’t take into account the circumstances of the business or team. For example, in some sectors, frequent short absences may be far less disruptive than less frequent longer absences — the Bradford score’s ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach is a benefit, but also a problem.
The formula also raises the wider problem of discouraging staff from taking sick leave so that they avoid disciplinary action. Employees with contagious illnesses will pass on their ailment to other staff, further increasing disruption — but if a poorly employee knows that taking another sick day will lead to a formal warning, they’ll probably come to work to avoid that. The ongoing pandemic only makes this problem more pressing.
Q: Should I use the Bradford Factor for my business?
Before deciding whether or not to make the Bradford Factor a part of your management strategy, it’s important to be aware of both its pros and cons.
- Having a clear scale on which all staff are measured is fairer than leaving decisions about how to respond to absenteeism to the discretion of one person.
- Gives both managers and employees something concrete to refer to when discussing attendance.
- Trigger levels can be tweaked to fit management styles, with less autocratic managers allowing for a higher number of sick days to be taken before issuing warnings.
- Flexible trigger levels run the risk of becoming entirely arbitrary if not properly thought out, leading to staff being judged unfairly.
- Those with disabilities or who have conditions like asthma or epilepsy may feel discriminated against as their conditions can result in occasional bouts of short (but much-needed!) periods of absence.
- Discouraging shorter spells of absence could potentially lead to staff bringing things like colds and flu in to work and passing them on to the entire team.
Tips for using the Bradford Factor effectively
The Bradford Factor can be hugely helpful for human resource managers, offering them a yardstick by which to compare their entire team and identify staff who could be costing the company hundreds, if not thousands of pounds a year.
By introducing them to the metric, staff usually respond positively, too, seeking to avoid taking too many “sickies” each year and having them affect their score.
But managers should also be wary of letting a one-size-fits-all formula shape their decisions too much.
Rather than firing off a written warning the moment a member of staff’s Bradford Index creeps into the next category, prudent HR managers should see this as an opportunity to meet with their staff to discuss the causes of their repeated absences.
It’s easy to write off occasional days off as staff pulling a fast one — especially if their sick days happen to fall either side of a weekend.
But frequent absence can be a sign that something isn't quite right. There are plenty of legitimate, serious, reasons why a member of your team might be calling in sick so often, such as:
- Stress and anxiety
- Illness in the family
- Bullying in the workplace
- Acute physical illnesses that flare up only occasionally
- Lack of engagement with their work
Although they're sometimes reserved for longer periods of absence, it’s a good idea to have a back-to-work scheme in place and to follow it even when a member of staff takes just a day or two off.
The Bradford Factor might be great for businesses that value efficiency before all else, but numbers alone won’t tell you whether someone is having trouble at home, or indeed if they are unhappy in their job and need your help.
You could simply dismiss staff who have high Bradford Factor scores, ensuring that only those who score well remain in the company. But even the most results-focused, data-driven business moguls will agree that replacing a member of staff will usually end up costing the company far more than ensuring that those in your existing team are motivated and happy at work.
Metrics like the Bradford Factor can be useful for managers, but it's best to use them to help you spot issues that need your attention rather than letting them make the decisions for you.
The Bradford Factor in RotaCloud
If you’re using RotaCloud’s Time & Attendance add-on, you can use your RotaCloud absence data to create Bradford Factor reports. Here’s how to do it:
#1 Add sickness and other absence via the Leave section, or employee timesheets where applicable.
#2 Under Reports → Time & Attendance, select Bradford Factor.
#3 Choose a date range and the employees the report will cover. The report will update automatically when settings are changed.
#4 Review the graph and the full data table below it.
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