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Factoring for success

With further evidence of poor productivity and record levels of sickness absence being reported by the ONS, the UK’s businesses and organisations must recognise that action needs to be taken. The significance of these sickness absence levels pose an ever increasing challenge to organisations who must better manage and reduce its impact using a variety of workforce management tools. The Bradford Factor, purportedly named after work undertaken by academics in Bradford in the 1980s, is a popular tool used by many companies to track and monitor absence patterns and identify potential issues.

So, is the Bradford Factor the best tool available?

There’s no doubt that it provides a simple yet powerful formula that quantifies an employee's absenteeism based on the number of absences and their duration over a specific period. The calculation multiplies the number of instances of absence by itself and then by the total number of days absent. This means that the method places more emphasis on frequent short-term absences. The theory is that they tend to be more disruptive to operations than fewer but longer term absences that can be planned for and managed.

Bradford factor (5)-1

S = Number of separate occasions an employee has been absent from work
in a set period of time

D =The total number of days the employee has been absent
in the same period of time

B = Bradford factor

For example, if an individual was off for 7 single days in a year, then their Bradford factor score would be 7 x 7 x 7 = 343, compared to a colleague who was sick for a 7 day long stretch in the same year, their Bradford factor score would be, 1 x 1 x 7 = 7, considerably lower.

Benefits of this approach include:

  • Early Identification: The Bradford Factor enables employers to identify absenteeism patterns early, allowing timely interventions to address potential issues.
  • Fairness and Consistency: It offers a standardised mathematical approach to absenteeism management, ensuring that all employees are treated fairly.
  • Encouraging Dialogue: By providing a concrete metric, the Bradford Factor opens the door to constructive conversations between employers and employees regarding attendance.
  • Improved Productivity: As with any method of tracking absence trends it can lead to improved workforce productivity by addressing recurring issues.

Fundamentally this approach is subjective and with care the score can be used to raise trigger points such as, when an employee reaches: Bradford factor graphUnions and others have expressed concern over using this methodology. They suggest as it is a totally subjective approach that it could lead to people coming to work when ill, profoundly serious in, for example, food manufacture environments with viral infections. They also convey that care that needs to be taken to avoid indirect discrimination if we treat all staff equally but not equitably. Everyone is different, so, for example, in the case above with very different scores, the first person could have been employed for many years and have a long term condition that, although treated leads to some days where pain leads to incapacitation, whereas the second person has been off for 7 days with a virus. Is it fair to consider one case so much more harshly than the other, or do we need to better understand the first persons’ situation, and how we as an organisation can help?

Is this the only tool?
Obviously not, whilst the Bradford Factor is widely used and valuable there are many other methodologies:

Lost Time Rate measures the time your organisation has lost to absence and compares that time to the maximum possible time that employees could have worked. i.e.,

Bradford factor (6)-1

This calculation is usually used more for groups of people rather than individuals.

For example, in a warehouse team of 10 employees on 39 hours per week for a year, taking account of planned holiday absence leaving say, 48 weeks per individual, then the maximum number of hours or potential hours are 39 x 48 x 10 = 18720. In this period if there had been a total of 1128 hours sickness across the team then their lost time rate calculation would be

1128 / 18720 = 0.0603 i.e., approx. 6%

This could then be measured against national averages that are available for most industries, geographic areas, and age groups, a 6% figure could be potentially seen as high and merit further investigation.

This can be used as a good general measure for organisations but takes no account of length of absence periods and can be widely distorted by a small number of employees on long term absence.

Another method is called the Frequency Rate which simply looks at how many individual periods of absence occur for an individual or group of employees. So, the formula is:

Bradford Factor - No. of BlocksNo. of Employees

For example, the frequency rate for the 10 employees used in the example above if the total number of occasions of sickness was 20 for the year, then the frequency rate is 20/10 = 2 i.e., 200%. For shorter periods of time this can be a useful comparison, e.g., if in one month there is 1 period of sickness absence then the calculation is 1/10 = 10%, compared to another month with 5 periods of absence 5/10 = 50%. Use this figure must only be made of comparable time periods, comparing a year with an individual month is meaningless.

All these methods have validity but do not in themselves provide the full picture, each shows some aspect of the issue, but all require further investigation to have meaning. Wide distortions can be given by longer term absence, multiple absences caused by known disabilities or a multitude of other explicable reasons and care must be taken to avoid any discriminatory behaviour.

Alongside the measurement of absence using such tools it is important to look at this more holistically.

  • Implementing health wellness programs can be useful to proactively address health issues, potentially reducing absenteeism and improving overall employee health.
  • Having an appropriate return-to-work procedure, with interviews after each absence can help identify underlying causes and offer support where needed.
  • Employee satisfaction surveys, by gathering employee feedback can provide insights into workplace morale and help address factors contributing to absenteeism.
  • Flexibility attendance and remote working arrangements can reduce unplanned absences while promoting work-life balance.

Crown Workforce Management system can help with all these aspects of Absence Management.

Crown WFM not only allows managers to capture the reasons for absences easily so that potential issues can be monitored. It also can be set up to automatically notify line managers the moment an employee returns to work following a period of absence and ensure a return to work interview is scheduled.

Each employee has their own Bradford Factor score automatically calculated and once it exceeds a pre-defined level and, allowing intervention for the more equitable approach, can invoke disciplinary procedures. All this is based on definable work rules and processes, the procedures may define an escalation process if the absence violations persist and can be set to de-escalate disciplinary procedures if no offences have been recorded within a subsequent time period.

Any other calculation can be defined by group or individual to begin such processes. For example, rules can be set for periods of lateness; once an individual exceeds the defined number the system can invoke disciplinary procedures automatically notifying the relative parties.

Flexible working can help with absence and Crown thrives on managing complexity. Crown can oversee just about any type of flexibility such as part-time working, job shares, flexitime, annualised hours, home/hybrid working and complex shift patterns. It supports all these various flexibilities allowing definition of appropriate work rules. With the information available at your fingertips, you will be able to plan and manage your people and other business processes more effectively and drive efficiencies and costs savings. At the same time enabling a better work life balance for your employees with working time better suiting their personal circumstances, whilst ensuring company commitments are met.

For more information about how Crown Workforce Management can support your business, talk to us today.

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