The Bradford Factor: Why you should avoid using it in isolation
I’m sure you’re well aware of the term ‘The Bradford Factor’. Created in the 1980’s by Bradford University School of Management, it’s become synonymous with employers who are keen to find a simple and expedient management solution to the disruption caused by employee absence.
For the uninitiated, the Bradford Factor is based on the theory that short, frequent, unplanned absences are more disruptive to businesses than longer periods of absence. Using a mathematical formula, it takes the number and frequency of absences to produce a simple score based on their estimated impact on a business.
Why are so many employers keen to embrace the Bradford Factor?
Essentially, it’s very easy to implement.
When reviewing an employee’s attendance, an employer can calculate a score for a certain period. They can then take a particular course of action in line with their absence management policy or procedure. In theory (contractual or not) an employee can’t question the fairness of the action taken, where the Bradford Factor is front and centre of the employer’s policy and procedure, and it has been applied consistently.
The Bradford Factor doesn’t make allowances for disability related absence
An employee may possess a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Regradless of whether it has been disclosed, an employee could meet the legal definition of being disabled with a condition that predisposes them to regular short and intermittent incidences of absence.
Under the Equality Act 2010, a disabled employee can explore tribunal claims pertaining to:
- A provision, criterion or practice which puts, or would put them at a particular disadvantage, when compared with non-disabled employees.
- Any failure to comply with a duty to make reasonable adjustments.
- And/or, action taken that amounts to unfavourable treatment because of something arising from, or in consequence of, their disability.
Most commonly, an employer relying on the Bradford Factor will be particularly exposed where they fail to undertake a wider investigation of an employee’s reasons for absence and/or consider whether legal obligations are triggered.
Why you shouldn’t use the Bradford Factor in isolation
A key flaw of the Bradford Factor is it doesn’t take into account why an employee has been absent from work. This information is vital in order for managers to support their team and manage absence effectively. Bradford scores should not be the only piece of information you use when making decisions around employee absence.
When monitoring employee absence, it’s important to ensure you:
- Keep records of individual periods of sickness absence.
- Retain accurate records that show individual instances of absence, together with the duration and reason for absence.
- Carry out a return to work interview with employees following each period of absence.
- Make sure absence measurement figures show the category of absence. E.g. long-term sickness, short-term sickness, unauthorised absence or lateness.
If you’re a HR professional, you’ll be aware that the ‘human’ is a key element in human resources management. Remember that conversations are key to supporting employees and resolving underlying issues around absence.
Invariably the reasons for short and intermittent incidences of absence will be wide ranging. Additionally, those reasons will rely on an employee’s honest and factually correct diagnosis. Ultimately, there can be no substitute for an informed investigation at the heart of any absence management policy and procedure.
Furthermore, over reliance on the Bradford Factor can also result in a demotivated workforce. Especially where employees with good overall attendance fall foul of an employer’s efforts to manage absence simply and expediently.
Our top five steps for effective absence management
Finally, here’s our top five steps for effective absent management.
- Ensure policies are promoted and followed consistently.
- Give clear guidance on how absence should be reported and applied for.
- Give line managers training, tools and the support they need to manage absenteeism.
- Consider flexible working to allow staff time off for medical appointments and family emergencies.
- Encourage staff to take all the holidays they’re entitled to so you can plan cover and avoid burn out.