No, it’s not a West Yorkshire-based TV talent show. You’ll hear the Bradford Factor crop up in HR discussions about staff absence. But its meaning, method, and implications aren't well understood.

Here’s what you need to know about this controversial measure of staff absence.

We'll start with the nuts and bolts of it, then tell you why it's a load of crap (well, it's better not to beat around the bush with these things).

What does Bradford Factor mean?

The Bradford Factor theorises that different absences have different costs - not just in days and hours.

For example, if you know someone is going to be off work for a whole week for, say, a hospital visit, you can plan for it. You can arrange cover or split their workload between other employees. But when someone take a single day off, by calling in sick ten minutes before their shift, you can't plan around this, it's more disruptive.

Someone with a recurring and unpredictable pattern of short absences are the worst because of the time spent juggling their responsibilities around. For project-based businesses it's inconvenient, but for smaller service businesses where you need the right number of people to serve demand, it can potentially be quite harmful.

The Bradford Factor was created in an attempt to measure and the impact of absences on a business.

Rumous says it was developed at the Bradford University School of Management in the 1980s. But as far as we are aware this hasn't been proven. Journalists have sought to clarify this from Bradford University but with no success.

How do you calculate the Bradford Factor?

There are two figures that go into the score; S and D.

S is the number of separate absences the employee’s had in total. (So a single day off would be 1, and a full week off would also be 1.)

D is the number of days they’ve had off in total.

So an employee’s Bradford Score (B) is calculated as follows:  S x S x D = B

Let's take a look at a few examples to see how it works.

Example calculations of the Bradford Factor

In the last year, Alex has been off sick twice. Once was for 4 days, the other was for 5. You'd calculate her score as: 2 x 2 = 4, then 4 x 9 = 36.

And in the last year, Sam has been away from work six times, each a single day at a time.  We’d calculate his score as:  6 x 6 = 36, then 36 x 6 = 216.

So even though Alex spent more days off work, Sam ends up with a much higher score.

As we’re dealing with multiplication, the results can be pretty high, going into the thousands for those who are frequently absent.

What is a good Bradford Factor score?

This is kind of a subjective area. There's a huge range of scores and you'll need to consider what's appropriate for your business. Different companies are going to set different parameters, different scales.

Here’s a typical example of a scaling system that you might see in use.

  • 0 - 99: No concern
  • 99 - 199: Action required (verbal warning)  
  • 200 - 399: Disciplinary action (written warning)  
  • 400 - 600: Serious disciplinary action (final written warning)  
  • 600+ : Dismissal

There’s no national agreed scale - it has to be decided by management and HR based on what they think is acceptable, and what isn't.

That is, if they decide to use the Bradford Factor at all - it's just one option for absence management.

Is the Bradford Factor fair?

In a word - no!

No, no, no.

We don't think the Bradford Factor is fair. We don't support it in Timetastic, and don't plan to.

Here's why.

We get why people use it, it’s simple, it's easy. We all love a good stat to help justify our decisions.

But it’s a mathamatical formula, it doesn't and can’t take into account the reasons behind somone absences, or how to manage them. It's not human.

It takes no account of the reality of life. It's literally heartless and crude. Compassion and understanding are necessary for a healthy business with a positive company culture, you won't find that in the Bradford Factor.

Sickness should never be a disciplinary offence.

How it can go wrong

Let's look at an example.

Take someone with a long-term medical condition. Imagine they have one or two unpredictable visits to hospital each month, this will give them a high Bradford Factor score. They're flagged for discipline.

But they might be an absolute superstar. And now you treat them with suspicion, getting a disciplinary record for something out of their control.

What kind of culture is that promoting?

Years ago, I was a team manager in a call centre. One of my team ended up with a massive Bradford factor because she had to take regular time off to care for her disabled sister. HR presented the calculations, the table of highest Bradford Factor scores - and higher management saw her as a lazy slacker. I had to run her disciplinary hearings, while thinking to myself, "this isn't her fault at all!". (You won't be surprised to hear the culture was pretty awful, and the place has now closed.)

Final thoughts

The Bradford Factor goes against what we believe to be essential parts of modern company culture. Flexibility, compassion and understanding aren't just the morally right way to do things. They guarantee staff happiness, health, and loyalty, which leads to long-term business success.

Fortunately there are alternatives to the Bradford Factor, and we'd encourage you to read and incorporate them into a healthy and compassionate system of absence management.

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