What HR needs to know about The Bradford Factor

Guest blog by Adrian Lewis from Activ Absence



Most HR Managers will know what the Bradford Factor is.  Some staff will be aware that they have a ‘Bradford Factor score’, (indeed it is built into Activ Absence!).

Our guide to the Bradford Factor is one of the most visited pages on our website, and it seems to create a lot of uncertainty – so I thought I’d help clarify what it is, how it can be used, and how to calculate an individual Bradford Factor Score.


Why ‘Bradford’?

Firstly, let’s get ‘Bradford’ out of the way – the only connection with the town in the North is that it was named after research undertaken by the Bradford University School of Management, which found that frequent short term absences (sickies) are more disruptive to a business than long term absence.  The school developed a scale so that employers could illustrate this to their employees.

Four employees could have taken the same number of days off sick during a year, say ten days each, but their patterns of sickness absence, and therefore their impact on the organisation would be different.  The Bradford Factor is simply a formula that adds weight to short term absence to illustrate this.


How do you calculate an individual Bradford Factor Score?

It looks like a very complex equation, when in fact it is simple.

The actual formula looks like this:
S x S x D=Bradford Factor

S is the number of spells of absence of an individual over a given period; and
D is the total number of days of absence of the individual over the same period

Here are some examples of how the calculation works in practice:

  • (a) One absence of 10 days = 1 x 1 x 10 = 10 points
  • (b) 3 absences of 1 day, 3 days and 6 days – 3 x 3 x 10 = 90 points
  • (c) 5 absences of two days each – 5 x 5 x 10 = 250 points
  • (d) Ten absences of one day each – 10 x 10 x 10 = 1,000 points

This may be easy to do, but if you would rather not perform this manually, we have a handy Bradford Factor Calculator on our website!


How is the Bradford Factor Used?

The Bradford Factor is only a scale to illustrate the impact of short term absence on an organisation.  A lot of people get worked up when they hear it is being introduced, but there is no right or wrong way to use it… it’s only a tool!

Often when an employee reaches a set Bradford Factor Score, it triggers an action, however the set scores and the consequences vary widely among employers.

Here is how one public sector employer uses the scale:

51 points – verbal warning.
201 points – written warning
401 points – final warning
601 points – dismissal

In our experience, showing an employee their ongoing Bradford Factor Score can have a big motivational effect on employees, who take pride in seeing their score as low as possible – this even applies where the organisation do not have any formal disciplinary system or triggers based on the Bradford Factor.


Problems with using the Bradford Factor in isolation

The first problem is that the scoring mechanism is naturally punitive towards short term absence, and finding out the reasons for short term absence is vital before implementing ANY hard and fast disciplinary rules.

It is VITAL in our opinion that employers have a system that automates the return to work process no matter how short the absence.   For example, employees suffering from stress will often become disengaged and take short term absence in advance of seeking help (at which point their GP is likely to sign them off work).

If you don’t speak to them, and find out the cause early on, by the time the absences trigger a Bradford Factor review, the employee will be even more stressed, even less engaged and more likely to go on long term absence due to stress – those are the situations where everyone loses.

As HR people know, a lot of the time the ‘human’ needs to come into human resources management.  No systems will never replace a skilled HR Manager, but they can document the facts from the very beginning so the very ‘human’ manager can apply the skills they trained for.

Having a good return to work process and a system that can document the results means that HR Managers can consider disciplinary issues on an individual basis if and when a score reaches a trigger point.

Any absence triggers should be reviewed carefully and with sensitivity, hard and fast rules don’t always work, because people don’t always fit into boxes!


Cases where a high Bradford Factor score could need special handling 

The first issue with the Bradford Factor is that it does not make allowances for disability related absence.  The British Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and 2005 (DDA), (replaced by the Equality Act 2010) creates a duty on employers to tailor their actions to the individual circumstances of disabled employees.

Whilst their absences may still have the same impact on an organisation, disabilities like epilepsy or asthma are more likely to result in short term rather than long term absence – as employers cannot discriminate against disability,  these protected characteristics may need to be taken into account – a reasonable adjustment could be to record disability related absence separately so they do not count as part of the Bradford Factor score.

Secondly, using the Bradford Factor alone does not take account of the impact of cancer or any other serious but recoverable illness.

These employees may need months off work and could easily rack up over 200 points from a single long absence.  Most employers would not want to give a written warning in these circumstances, and would want to support their employee through a very troubling time.  In those instances gentle, sensitive handling and implementing a return to work plan is usually more appropriate.


As with any complex HR policy, when and where the Bradford Factor is appropriate is a matter for expert guidance and we ALWAYS advise seeking professional advice on each individual case from an experienced, qualified HR Consultant or a legal specialist.

Author: Editorial Team

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