What is the Bradford Factor?

Lizzie Buxton

Written By Lizzie Buxton

8th October 2018

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HR departments need to be able to get to the bottom of the issue of absence in their organisation. Many choose to use the Bradford Factor to help them to calculate the impact that this has.

But what is the Bradford Factor, how is it calculated and is it a good metric to use? Our guide explains everything you need to know…

What is the Bradford Factor and where did it come from?

The Bradford Factor is a formula used by people in HR to help measure and monitor absence. Its name comes from the connection it has with research conducted by Bradford University School of Management in the 1980s and it aims to demonstrate the disproportionate disruption caused by multiple short-term absences.

The bradford factor

How do you calculate a Bradford Factor score?

The Bradford Factor is a simple equation based on two pieces of data – the number of spells (S) of absence in a given period (usually a year) and the total number of days (D) absent by an employee.

It’s calculated like this:

S2 x D = Bradford Factor score

How does that work in practice? If one employee has one ten-day period of sickness and another has four one-day absences throughout the year, their scores would be:

12 x 10 = 10

42 x 4 = 64

It’s a basic enough calculation, can easily be automated and provides people in HR with data to analyse when it comes to assessing absence.

What do the Bradford Factor scores show?

So, what do these numbers show us? In short, the higher the Bradford Factor score, the more disruptive an employees’ absence has been. The formula is weighted to demonstrate the fact that frequent short spells of absence are seen as more problematic to manage from a productivity perspective than single, longer instances. That’s reflected in our example above, where the second employee has a much higher Bradford Factor score despite having been off for six fewer days than the first employee.

The use of this metric becomes more contentious if people then choose to apply scoring bands or thresholds based on Bradford Factor scores.

The trigger points reportedly applied by the UK Prison Service – which used the Bradford Factor alongside a package of measures to successfully reduce absenteeism – are sometimes used as an example of how thresholds can be applied.

  • 51 points: verbal warning
  • 201 points: written warning
  • 401 points: final warning
  • 601 points: dismissal

It’s important, however, to realise the limitations of using the Bradford Factor scores in this way. HR departments have to be aware of the fact that employees with disabilities or conditions such as cancer might well require more spells of absence and should not be discriminated against. There’s also a danger that employers wait for a trigger to act rather than spot an issue and address it early on. Such issues help to explain why unions such as Unison describe it as a ‘blunt instrument’ and some critics feel that applying a score to absence creates added pressure that can exacerbate a situation.

The query here is with the use of the scores, rather than the score itself. Provided HR people apply the context of individual cases and avoid the potential for discrimination – in other words, consider the person behind the data – then this can be of us to highlight an issue.

absentee report

Alternatives to the Bradford Factor

Companies might wish to split out the two elements of the Bradford Factor, to look at alternative absence metrics.

  • The Lost Time rate involves simply dividing the total working hours lost by the maximum hours available.
  • The Frequency rate, by contrast, simply demonstrates the number of spells of absence without paying heed to time lost. This can be expressed as a number of spells per person by dividing the total number of absences by number of employees.

The beauty of the Bradford Factor is that it takes into account both of these factors – but companies might still find it useful to focus on either the time or frequency elements.

In sum, therefore, the Bradford Factor can be a useful measure to use as part of a wide-ranging approach to identifying and addressing absenteeism – and HR professionals using this need to be aware of its pitfalls and limitations.

If you’d like more information on how absence is affecting UK businesses download the Absenteeism Report 2018.

Download Report

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