Using the Bradford Index to Manage Absence

What is the Bradford Method?

The Bradford Index is used by employers to help control absence. In my experience, it is most useful for organisations where absence is above normal (for their industry). There are various ways to manage attendance, and thus reduce costs and using the Bradford Index allows organisations to measure the impact and control absence by means of a formula that can be applied fairly and consistently, to the entire workforce.

The Bradford Formula

The Bradford formula is calculated by doing this sum: S x S x D = Bradford Score

  • S is the total number of spells of individual absence over a set period (or, S squared)
  • D is the total number of days of absence for that individual over the same set period (typically 52 weeks)
  • And B gives you the Bradford Factor Score

Which means everyone has a Bradford Index Score – some high (bad) and most low (good), Organisations set limits of when a Manager can or should take action (see Triggers below)

Worked example:

Tim takes seven days off in one spell of absence to recover from an injury. His Bradford Factor is seven (7 = 1 x 1 x 7)

Compare this to Kelly, who takes six absences for minor illness over six separate days. Her Bradford score is 216 (216 = 6 x 6 x 6)

A word of caution – with all these facts and statistics at your disposal, you will start uncovering absence patterns within your company. It’s important to bear in mind that all statistics, however accurate and timely, show half of the story. And it should always be your priority to understand each individual’s personal circumstances first. Your absence management policy and the process provides the framework under which staff and managers can feel informed and consulted during a time of natural uncertainty that any prolonged or regular period of ill.

What counts as sickness absence in the Bradford Index?

Sickness-related absence falls into two categories:

  1. Short-Term Absence: defined as repeated periods of absence, typically for 1-2 days at a time. Causes of short-term absence are highly varied, ranging from back pain to minor illness (colds, flu, headaches etc).
  2. Long-Term Absence: typically characterised by extended periods away from work. Some companies define this as 20 working days or one calendar month. Others might intervene earlier if reasons for absence show signs of becoming prolonged.

Why is it so important to measure absence?

Absence isn’t just annoying for those left to ‘carry the can’. It causes operational difficulties, undermines quality and it increases costs. Just some of these costs can include:

  • Sick pay
  • Lost productivity/lost sales
  • Reduction in quality/service
  • Low morale, leading to higher staff turnover and reduced productivity for the rest of the team
  • Additional overtime and administration costs
  • Risks of litigation/payouts
  • The additional burden of costs of managing escalated absence issues
  • Cost of absence in terms of budgeting and forecasting.

Where do Organisations go Wrong?

Absence is a sensitive issue. Many managers assume that questioning someone’s reason for absence emotive. Then go on to make decisions on what is real and isn’t. Who is just having a duvet day? Who is genuinely ill?  This is unfair and likely to result in severe consequences for those that get it wrong. For example, fears of being sued arising from wrongful dismissal.

Because of the difficulties, many organisations never address absence levels or wait until it becomes a serious problem. Even then, some aren’t confident that they’re able to demonstrate they’ve followed fair procedures. Others believe that measuring absence requires resources they don’t have. Either way, the most important step is to take an accurate record of all absences, which is the beauty of using the Bradford Index. From there, you can carry out some basic calculations and establish how much absence, is costing your business.

To avoid questions about unfairness – the key first step is to have a simple and open policy on how your company manages absence, there should also be an ‘open door’ message for workers to discuss issues. The subtle rewards of early communication with employees about planned absence can be just as important as the positive impact on the bottom line. It will also ensure that you are seen as a responsible employer with a vested interest in your employees’ well-being.

A well-written policy can help you manage all these things.

How to Measure the Costs of Absence?

Acas has used a well-known method of calculating absence to illustrate the cost of paying employees off sick.

Worked example:

Take an organisation with 200 employees earning an average £498 per week, for 260 days per year. If the average absence per employee is 2 days, then the direct cost of absence is £39,846. By reducing the average absence by just 0.5 days to 1.5, the organisation can make a cost saving of £9,961.

Armed with this information, you can begin to understand whether absence is a problem worth tackling in your company and justify investment in better systems such as occupational health to achieve this or using the Bradford Index to provide a means of comparing absences in terms of costs to your company rather than whether the illness is genuine or not.

First, you’ll need to get an accurate record of all absences across your organisation. This is where being clear on your absence process is key.

Effective management of absence in terms of engaging with employees when they have been off sick means you’ll have a great starting point when getting the data you need to make informed decisions.

  • What is the balance of short and long-term absence?
  • Is absence higher in a specific area of the business (e.g. in particular departments or locations)?
  • Do absence patterns occur on specific days of the week, day/s of the week or year?
  • Is absence higher by age or gender?

Share the information with the staff of their own sickness levels – one of the most powerful passive tools is staff having sight of exactly how much time they are away from the business.

Triggers for Action

Triggers can be applied to individuals and departments, or across the whole company.

Here are examples of some ideas to write into your absence management policy:

  • Length of sick leave (if an individual is off for 10 days, they will need to have a return to work interview with HR or supervisor and referral to occupational health)
  • Number of absences spells (employee is off 6 times in 4 months) = Stage 1 review
  • Patterns of absence (4 Mondays over 12 months) = Stage 2 review

You could also incorporate the individual’s Bradford Factor to trigger a discussion with a manager which in many organisations, is set at 200.

Further Advice and Reading

Post updated November 2018

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