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Bradford Sickness Score: How to Reduce Employee Absence

Employee Wellbeing
August 23, 2022
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HR teams have a reason to be concerned about employee absences, especially if they become frequent. Employee absenteeism is often a precursor for employee turnover and has implications for employee engagement. The Bradford Sickness Score provides a calculation to keep track of employee absences. While it’s a metric worth noting, it’s not going to tell you why employee absences are occurring. 

For that, you can look to employee wellbeing tools and additional resources to better manage and potentially reduce absenteeism. In this article, we will explain the Bradford score calculator, its uses and limitations, and how you can work to reduce employee absences by prioritizing employee mental wellbeing.

What is the Bradford Factor?   

The Bradford Factor is a formula used to measure employee absence. It is number that is calculated to know how many unplanned absences an employee has taken during the last working year. 

The calculation is such that the number will increase with each absence. This way, it provides HR teams and management with a way to quickly identify when employee absences are trending beyond an acceptable threshold. 

Employee absences may be unscheduled, which is when an employee doesn’t show up during their regularly scheduled hours. 

Scheduled time off is also considered an absence, but they are typically more acceptable because they are known and employers can plan for them in advance. These types of absences may be due to vacation, family activities, medical appointments, and more.

How is the Bradford Sickness Score Calculated?   

The Bradford Sickness Score, or Bradford Factor, is calculated by this formula:

Bradford Factor = S² x D 

Where: 

S = the total number of separate absences, 

D = the total number of days absent in a 52-week period 

The purpose of this equation is to understand how employee absences impact the business overall. The higher the Bradford Factor, the larger the impact. It is used to help compare the amount of absent days taken over the same period of time between employees. 

It probably still sounds a bit complicated. So, let’s take a look the calculations in action.

What are Examples of Bradford Sickness Score?   

To understand the Bradford Score calculator, we will put on our math hat and run some numbers. 

Consider that you have two employees, Kate and Chester. Kate took five sick days in a row and then showed up back at work. Chester, on the other hand, has taken five sick days, one each month, across a five month period.

Both of them have been absent for the same number of days, but which employee’s absence places a larger burden on the business? 

According to the Bradford calculation, 

Kate = 1 instance ^1 x 6 total absent days  = 6 

Chester = 5 instances ^2 x 5 total absent days = 125 

As you can see, Chester’s impact, although spread across five months and for shorter bouts, is expected to have a larger effect on the business. 

Companies typically assign Bradford Score thresholds to determine what’s a good versus bad versus acceptable Bradford Score. 

Here’s an example of what that could look like:

  • Concern (BF = 45): Managers may want to advise on possible disciplinary actions should more absences occur.
  • Concern (BF = 100): Sufficient days for a manager to start disciplinary action (oral warning, written warning, formal monitoring etc)
  • Concern (BF = 900): Reasonable for a manager to consider dismissal

How HR Software Helps the Bradford Sickness Score?

Some HR software will calculate the Bradford Sickness Score for you so you can take off your math hat and focus on your human resources responsibilities. 

With the system handling the calculations for you, you can quickly see which employees are constantly absent based on their Bradford Sickness Score. While it’s useful to pinpoint these absences, it’s more beneficial to be able to prevent them from happening in the first place. 

Say goodbye to magic eight balls for predictions and meet a tool that can offer accurate insights and a deep understanding of how your employees are doing and feeling. 

Employee wellbeing tools, like that from LUME, provides your team members with a place to document their feelings and better understand what affects them. When employees can gain control over their thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and the variables that surround them, they are better able to manage and control their actions and choices. 

For example, if they are feeling overwhelmed or stressed out, they may be more prone to taking an unplanned absence. 

With LUME, employees also gain access to tools and techniques to strengthen their mental fitness, which can prevent employees from arriving at the conclusion of absenteeism. Instead, they’ll know how to set boundaries, ask for help, and manage their workload to avoid burnout.

Additionally, HR teams get to see anonymised insights, which can point HR personnel in the direction of the teams and departments who are experiencing negative feelings or being overworked. In turn, HR teams and managers can offer proactive support and resources to help teams, and thus, reduce absences.

Is the Bradford Factor Useful?   

As an employer, it’s up to you to decide how to use and enforce rules around the Bradford Factor. 

With thresholds applied, it can provide employees with an understanding of how many absences will be acceptable versus when disciplinary action may occur. It also helps to keep an eye on employee absenteeism in a direct manner before it could turn into a larger problem. 

The upsides of using the Bradford Factor include the fact that it’s:

  • Efficient: It’s simple to calculate. Plus, some HR software that you may already be using can run the calculation for you automatically.
  • Equal: The fact that the Bradford Factor treats everyone the same may be considered equal, but it may not actually be fair. While there’s equality involved, equity may fall short here. In the next section, we will further explain why it may actually be unfair.

What are the Limitations of the Bradford Sickness Score?   

There is some contention around whether or not to use the Bradford Sickness Score as a metric. Some opponents to its usage may argue that it is constrained by its limitations, which include: 

Equity: 

Treating everyone equally is, in theory, the right thing to do. But, when it comes to employees and their personal needs, equality isn’t always the optimal approach. This is especially true in terms of absenteeism. 

For example, HR should always be focused on providing employees with what they need as individuals. And, each individual has their own set of circumstances and needs. So, without understanding why an employee is absent for work, treating everyone equally could actually end up backfiring and being seen as unfair. 

This is because you may find that there’s an adequate reason why employees are absent and as an employer, you may also have the means and resources to be able to better support them and reduce absences.

Efficiency isn’t everything: 

When it comes to operations within a business, efficiency is a key marker of success. But, when it comes to people, tracking metrics based on efficiency isn’t always the best path forward. 

Caring about employees and prioritizing their emotional wellbeing should always be of utmost importance. In turn, if you use a Bradford Sickness Score to judge employees without context of why they are absent and end up scolding them, it could be detrimental to their longevity and trust in the company.

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By Jose Vazquez from Unsplash

How to Reap the Benefits of Bradford Sickness Score? 

If your organization chooses to use the Bradford Sickness Score, the most important consideration is that it should not be used in isolation. 

It’s best to use the numbers as a marker and gauge to track employee absences. But, because absences are often an effect of a greater cause, it’s always best to understand the reasons behind absences, rather than take disciplinary action without knowing the full story. 

We recommend prioritizing your employees’ mental wellbeing and supporting them at all times. You can do so by checking in with employees when you see that their Bradford Sickness Score is on the rise. 

It may be the case that their absence is in response to something you can control, like their workload or an existing healthcare issue that may need extra attention and calls for more workplace flexibility. 

An employee wellbeing solution like LUME can offer a broad range of solutions to gain this visibility. LUME can play a role in reducing staff turnover, understanding team conflicts, improving employee wellbeing and mental fitness, and helping employees overcome adversity. 

All of these benefits have a fair share in reducing employee absenteeism and getting to know employees on a deeper level so that you can provide support wherever and whenever it is needed most.

What are Alternatives to Bradford Sickness Score?   

You’ll come across other alternatives to the Bradford Sickness Score, such as the lost time rate method and the absence frequency rate method. The lost time rate method is a formula to gauge the percentage of lost hours to potential total work hours possible. The absence frequency method focuses on the amount of absence instances, rather than incorporating the number of absent days. 

While all of these metrics to monitor absenteeism can be of use to an organization, they are best applied in tandem with greater efforts to care for employees’ mental wellbeing. You will only be able to reduce employee absenteeism by understanding the reasoning for it in the first place.

Closing Thoughts 

Now you have the ins and outs of what there is to know about the Bradford Sickness Score. How you choose to use it or combine it with other initiatives is up to your organization, and ultimately, its goals. 

If you do choose to apply it or track it constantly, then make sure that you are setting up the playing field with thresholds that are fair. 

At the same time, ensure that your employees feel supported and cared for in terms of their mental wellbeing. This way, when there is a reason for an absence, they have the necessary resources and support to keep their absences under control.

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