What is the Bradford Factor?

The Bradford Factor is a way to measure how much un-planned time off an employee has had, and how much of an impact it had.

The basic idea behind the Bradford Factor is that it is disruptive to your company if an employee has lots of short unplanned time off. It is less disruptive if the employee has fewer unplanned absences, even if the total time is longer.

The reason for this, is that no matter how much time off is had, every time an employee has some unplanned time off, the company has to adjust to function without that employee doing their bit. This adjustment takes time and effort so the more often it happens, the more overall impact.

The Bradford Factor is an attempt to summarise the impact of unplanned time off into a single score: The Bradford Factor Score.

Once you have calculated the Bradford Factor Score for an employee, you can then get an idea of how disruptive their unplanned time off has been.

Note: Most HR software systems can automatically tell you your Bradford Factor score.

How do you calculate the Bradford Factor Score?

To calculate the Bradford Factor Score for an employee you use the following simple formula:

BFS = S x S x D

In this formula, the following variables are used:

  • BF is the resulting Bradford Factor Score
  • S is the number of separate unplanned absences by the employee in the last 12 months
  • D is the total number of days the employee has had of unplanned absence in the last 12 months

Examples of calculating the Bradford Factor Score

We will take 4 examples to show how to calculate the score. This will help show you how the Bradford Factor really highlights the number of times an employee has unplanned time off, rather than the total time they have been off.

Example 1: Employee is off for a total of 6 days, spread across 2 different unplanned absences.

2 x 2 x 6 = Bradford Factor Score of 24

Example 2: Employee is off for a total of 6 days, spread across 4 different unplanned absences.

4 x 4 x 6 = Bradford Factor Score of 96

Example 3: Employee is off for a total of 6 days, spread across 6 different unplanned absences.

6 x 6 x 6 = Bradford Factor Score of 216

Example 4: Employee is off for 12 days, all in a single time off.

1 x 1 x 12 = Bradford Factor Score of 12

Let’s look at these examples in a simple table to make it easier to compare:

Example NumberEx.1Ex.2Ex.3Ex.4
Total Days Off66612
Number of Separate Absences 2461
Bradford Factor Score249621612

As you can clearly see, the number of Bradford Factor Score really starts to get big if you have more separate absences. So much so, that the score for Example 4 is actually the lowest score, even though it has double the total number of days off than all the other examples.

What do the different Bradford Factor Scores mean?

In a nutshell, the higher the Bradford Factor Score for an employee, the more disruption their planned time off has caused your company.

Most HR teams will have a set of guidelines for scores and what they mean. As an example, the scores could be broken down into bands like this:

  • Below 25: No concern with the absences
  • 26 – 45: Some concern
  • 46 – 100: Proactive action required to find out why the employee is having unplanned absence
  • 100 – 900: Consider disciplinary action
  • 901: Serious disciplinary action required

Using these guidelines with the examples above we can see that only Example 1 and Example 4 are considered scores where there is no concern.

Example 3 (The 6 days across 6 separate unplanned absences one) actually has a score that would encourage the company to consider disciplinary action against the employee.

How is that fare? Example 3, with 6 days off should start disciplinary action, but Example 4, with twice as much time off is totally fine?

How should a company correctly use the Bradford Factor?

The major problem with the Bradford Factor and it’s scores is not the formula. It’s how the scores are used so blindly.

Too many companies use the Bradford Factor and Scores in conjunction with Trigger Points at which point disciplinary action is started. There is an example above, for employees with a score of over 100.

However, what far too many companies fail to do is the Trigger Point above that one. Here is where the company should take some proactive action first. They need to work with the employee to find out if anything can be done to reduce the number of times the employee is having unpanned absences.

There could be all kinds of reasons why an employee has unplanned absences. The Bradford Factor can not be used as a stick to beat employees with. It should only be used to highlight the situation. The company can work with the employee to improve things for both the employee and the company.

Without understanding the individual circumstances of an employee, you can never just use the score as a reason for disciplinary action.

Bradford Factor Trigger Points: Adjusting per Employee

Every employee is different, so you shouldn’t apply the same Bradford Factor trigger points to them. An employee with an ongoing medical condition is far more likely to have a larger Bradford Factor Score that normal.

However, unplanned absences are not just about sickness. Often, unplanned absences are a result of unforeseen circumstances such as needing to care for dependants at short notice.

Understanding each employee and the reasons for each unplanned absence is critical when using the Bradford Factor.

For each of your employees, we recommend that you include them in any discussion regarding Bradford Factor trigger points. Give them the opportunity to explain any circumstances that you should be aware of that could result in unplanned absences. This should be an ongoing process. Situations change, and so too should the trigger points for each employee.

Reducing the impact of unplanned absences

Discuss with your employees how to minimise the impact that an unplanned absence would have.

If you know that an employee has an ongoing medical condition, you can put a process in place to transfer their work as fast as possible. Done well, there will be minimal impact caused by such an absence. Therefore the number of different times the employee is off is no longer as important.

Bonus: Adapting the Bradford Factor Formula

A well documented process for adapting to an unplanned absence lets you adjust how you calculate their Bradford Factor Score.

Let’s say that the process you have worked out makes the impact of an unplanned absence only half that of normal. With this example you could use the following formula instead of the regular one:

BFS = (S x S x D) x 1/ 2

Bradford Factor and COVID-19

The global pandemic of COVID-19 is a great example of how the Bradford Factor can not be used as a rigid rule regarding disciplinaries over unplanned absences.

With quarantine, forced isolation, the loss of loved ones and everything else being thrown at us all, it is more important than ever to show compassion and empathy when dealing with unplanned absences.

I want to state this again because it really is incredibly important. The Bradford Factor should never be used as a rigid benchmark to beat employees with.

Do you use the Bradford Factor Score?

Do you think your company is using the Bradford Factor Score too rigidly? If so, please send them a link to this page to help point them start using it correctly.

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