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A Guide To Understanding The Bradford Factor For Absence Management

Sickness absence has become an increasing cause for concern for many companies, with changing legislation, greater competitive pressures and other factors leading to mounting costs for employers.

The Bradford Factor calculator provides companies with an effective early warning system, highlighting for managers those employees experiencing frequent and unplanned absences.

A recent study from the Institute for Employment Studies indicated that between 2 and 16 percent of a company’s annual salary bill may be spent on absence.

The lack of thorough and robust data on the direct and indirect costs means that the true scale of costs to businesses is unknown, but a report from Centre of Economic and Business Research commissioned by workplace absence management specialists in 2017 indicated that the UK experienced approximately £18 billion in lost productivity for the year, driven by a sharp rise in mental health illnesses and an ageing workforce.

Tracking and monitoring employee absence in a performance management and HR suite is crucial if companies want to keep a lid on exorbitant costs of sickness absence, and one popular method used for monitoring absence is the Bradford Factor. Representing the number of unplanned absences an employee has in a year, the Bradford Factor allows managers to assess the potential impact absence is having on the overall running of the business.

With short, frequent and unplanned absences having the most potentially negative impact upon the company, creating unforeseen staff shortage situations, a Bradford Factor score is useful data for management to help mitigate against unnecessary losses.

Calculating the Bradford Factor

The Bradford Factor formula is simple but effective:

S2 x D = B
S is the total number of separate absences by an individual
D is the total number of days of absence of that individual
B is the Bradford Factor score

Originally developed at the Bradford University School of Management in the early 1980’s, this system allows managers to run insightful reports from their HR tools, better identifying employees who have a high volume of absences and giving them the information they need to deal with the situation.

The score given provides managers with potential courses of action, depending on how extreme an employee’s score is. For example:


Potential action


None required


Consider a verbal warning


Consider a first written warning


Consider a final written warning


Consider dismissal

Additionally, the Bradford Factor provides users with a heat map; a visual overview of the tool’s scores and weightings allowing for an at-a-glance overview. Based on the result, managers can choose to discuss the matter further with the employee, showing concern and offering advise; begin disciplinary proceedings (verbal/written warnings); or consider a dismissal.

Considerations when using the Bradford Factor

It should be understood that the Bradford Factor shouldn’t be used in isolation. Managers should ensure that they include return-to-work interviews as part of their management absence process. While useful for providing a broad overview, it doesn’t take individual circumstances into consideration, and other factors such as long term physical or mental health problems need to be taken into account.

While the mathematical nature of the Bradford Factor ensures that it is applied the same to all members of staff, equally this can lead to scenarios where trigger warnings are generated for employees with special health conditions or other circumstances. Ultimately, it is up to managers to be in personal contact with their employees, especially when pre-existing health problems are present and the employee is likely to require more time off than average.

It is inadvisable to use the Bradford Factor in isolation, but combined with return-to-work interviews and regular one-to-one conversations with employees, as part of your company’s performance and HR tools software it offers managers a useful early warning tool.

Employee awareness of a company’s adoption of the Bradford Factor can reduce unplanned absences by 20%, and as long as managers use the system as a guide in conjunction with other approaches to absence management, it remains an effective tool for reducing loss of business due to sickness.