The guide to managing HR in a small business

Back to HR resources

The Bradford factor

Use our Bradford Factor calculator

When measuring the amount of sick leave your staff take you want to be as objective as possible. “Why?” I hear you ask. Well that’s a good question and there are two reasons:

  1. It’s too easy to use other staff who aren’t sick as a comparison, and this is not objective. For example, you might say “Hey John, out of the entire team you’re the most sick person in the room”. While technically true this doesn’t mean that John’s sickness is excessive, it’s just more than the rest of the team. It also alienates John from the team, which isn’t what you want.
  2. When you’re approaching a staff member about their levels of absenteeism due to sickness you’re effectively starting a disciplinary procedure. If ultimately you decide to terminate that staff member you want to be sure that the procedure you followed was as objective as possible.

The Bradford factor is one of many ways of measuring absence both objectively and impartially. It’s worth noting up front that the Bradford system is specific to the UK and not widely used in the rest of the world. It’s not a coincidence that the Bradford factor is UK specific when it was conceived in Bradford University, in West Yorkshire, England.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that the Bradford factor has caused heated debate, with some managers using the scoring system as a blunt tool to discipline staff too harshly. We’ll leave that to one side for the purposes of this article as we know you manage your staff fairly!

How does the Bradford Factor work?

The Bradford factor was designed with the following principle in mind:

“Short, frequent, and unplanned absences are more disruptive than longer absences”

In other words, if a staff member takes lots of one to two day absences as their manager it’s much harder to plan around the disruption this causes when compared to a staff member who has a run of twenty days off sick.

The other issues high frequency short length time off causes is that other staff will begin to resent them, possibly on the basis that they don’t think that their sickness is legitimate. At best this will cause resentment to breed amongst the team, at worst your entire team will start to think they can take a sick day when they feel like it.

What is the Bradford Factor formula?

The Bradford Factor formula is really simple but to make it even easier we’ve added a Bradford Factor calculator to the bottom of this page.

S x S x D = Bradford points score

S is the number of occasions of absence in the last 52 weeks and D is the total number of days absence in the last 52 weeks.

So, for employees with a total of 14 days’ absence, for example, in one rolling 52-week period, the Bradford score can vary enormously, depending on the number of occasions involved.

So, for example:

  • 1 absence of 14 days is 14 points (ie 1 x 1 x 14)
  • 7 absences totalling 14 days (2 days per absence) is 686 points (ie 7 x 7 x 14)
  • 14 absences totalling 14 days (1 day per absence) each is 2,744 points (ie 14 x 14 x 14)

Generally managers take the absence over the period of one full year as the inputs for the Bradford factor formula.

Keeping accurate sickness records is essential

As with any formula if you put bad data in you’re going to get bad data out. So you need to make sure that the system you use to track staff sickness is robust and not prone to human error. Enter Staff Squared (we know, we’re shameless), which allows you to quickly and easily track sick leave and also automatically calculates Bradford factor for you.

How should you apply the Bradford Factor in your company?

Inexperienced or heavy handed managers will potentially misuse the Bradford factor as a way to fear manage their staff. This isn’t cool, nor is it productive. We believe that a high Bradford factor score should be a call to action for a manager to have an open and honest discussion with the member of staff who is struggling with poor attendance.

For example the Bradford Factor can be utilised by creating triggers whereby certain actions are taken when an employee’s Bradford score reaches a certain point. For example, the UK Prison Service has used the following triggers:

51 points – verbal warning

201 points – written warning

401 points – final warning

601 points – dismissal

Setting these triggers is entirely dependent on the organisation using the Bradford Factor. It is usually advisable to use the Bradford Factor as one of a number of absence policies.

The Bradford Factor measurement should also be used hand in hand with other approaches such as Return to Work Interviews (RTI). RTI’s must be carried out for every unauthorised absence and for every person, even those you know have been genuinely ill. RTI’s are as much about ensuring people are fit to return to full time work and you care about their welfare as it is making those taking a cheeky day off know what they are doing and finally you are providing effective management.

As an aside, it’s worth us pointing out that you mustn’t include any absence related to a disability otherwise you risk being accused of discrimination.

Using the Bradford Factor as a deterrent

Here at Staff Squared we’re huge fans of making sure staff in any given team are aware of the repercussions of absenteeism. It’s always right and fair to ensure that your staff handbook or policy and procedures outline what level of attendance is expected, and what happens in the event that this isn’t met by any member of your team. This way, there are no surprises or awkward conversations when a staff member fails to meet these expectations. It’s also a handy incentive for staff not to fall below the standard expected of them.

Bradford factor calculator

Looking for help?
Our HR Software might be the answer...

Try Staff Squared
Try Staff Squared for free!

Free 14 day trial. No card details required.

Use the promo code "HRHELP" for 20% off!

Simple HR Software for small
business
that doesn't suck

Book a demo OR Start free trial