What is the Bradford Factor?

The Bradford Factor is a simple maths equation that many companies use to try and make sense of staff absence rates. According to the CIPD, the Bradford Factor takes its name from a research paper published by the Bradford University School of Management in the 1980s.

How do you calculate the Bradford Factor?

The Bradford is calculated with a simple formula: 

S x S x D = Bradford Factor score

In this formula: 

  • S represents the total number of spells of absence (or instances of absence) over a given timeframe - usually a year
  • D stands for the total number of days of absence over that same timeframe.

Say a staff member gets the flu and takes two sick days. Later that year, they get food poisoning and need to take a further five more days off work. In this instance, the formula would look like this:

2 x 2 x 7 (2+5) = 28 

What is an acceptable Bradford factor score? 

Different companies assess Bradford Factor scores in different ways. Some employers set out ‘trigger points’ which, once met, are then flagged to managers. Where those trigger points lie, and what action is actually triggered, is entirely up to the company.

One Bradford Factor trigger point could lead to an informal chat with a line manager; a higher trigger point might put into motion a more formal disciplinary process.

To make it easy for you to understand what can be considered an acceptable Bradford factor score, we put together this table that many HR professionals use:

Get your copy of our Bradford Factor table

Download template

Is the Bradford Factor useful? 

The actual, real-world usefulness of the Bradford Factor is a point of contention within HR circles. Let’s break it down and look at the advantages and disadvantages of the Bradford Factor.

Bradford Factor advantages  

  • 👍🏻 It’s efficient

Making that calculation doesn’t take long, and it can be automated fairly easily. Many HR software already comes with the Bradford Factor in-built, so you can start using the tool straight away.

  • 👍🏻 It’s fair

The Bradford Factor is a mathematical equation and will treat everyone the same - regardless of who they are. Using an equation helps to guard against favouritism within HR departments.

Bradford Factor disadvantages  

  • 👎🏻 It’s not fair

Yes - the Bradford Factor treats everybody the same. But to automatically designate that as a ‘fair’ outcome is falling into the age-old trap of matching equality with equity. Just because you’re treating everyone the same does not mean you are treating everyone fairly.

Your employees will all have different medical histories, different caring responsibilities, very different motivations, and very different lives.

Perhaps have a read of our long-term sick leave guide to understand more about this or even our unpaid leave one. 

  • 👎🏻 It’s inefficient 

There’s nothing wrong with looking for efficiency. We understand better than most what it’s like trying to build a business from scratch - any opportunity to save yourself time is a godsend. We built Charlie’s HR software exactly to help People teams save time on repetitive tasks. 

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But this is your team you are talking about. If you are a small business trying to get off the ground, your success rests squarely on their shoulders - your company will stand or fall depending on how well they perform. Is this really the place to be cutting corners and saving time?

So what’s the alternative to using the Bradford Factor?

Rather than relying too heavily on the Bradford Factor, a good HR strategy takes a more considered view of staff absences. The goal is not to punish people for being absent - but to create an environment where employees both don’t want, or need, to miss time from work.

As we said earlier, it could be that recurring, short-term absences are being caused by something that the employer can help with - something that a simple return-to-work interview could uncover. Maybe the employee is a new parent, for example, and their absences would decrease if they could work more flexibly.

Charlotte Philip, Human Resources Consultant

“Rather than relying on the Bradford Factor too heavily, a more effective, personal and kind alternative is return-to-work interviews, whereby you speak to your team members upon their return to work about their situation and find out if they need any support or help from the business. This approach is also more effective in identifying and exerting pressure on malingerers."

If you are running a small business then the prospect of looking after absence management and conducting back-to-work interviews can seem daunting. It is yet another task to cram into the working day, and managing those records only increases that workload.

This is where a system like Charlie comes in handy:  

  • Automatically record, approve and deny absences and time off on one secured platform, accessible at any time 
  • Head to your Charlie dashboard or activate notifications on Slack from Charlie to find out who is off ill or away 
  • Pull in-depth reports on your team’s time off to stay abreast of holiday use and track absences. 
  • Get notified when a team member hasn’t been using their holiday, so you can encourage them to take a break.

By freeing up your time from needless admin, you’ll be able to spend more of your day talking to your employees and finding out what they need to perform at their best.

If you want to find out more about how Charlie can help you keep on top of staff absences, improve staff performance, and save you time, then you can try it for free here.


Is the Bradford Factor legal?

In a nutshell, the answer to the question is ‘yes’ – but only if the trigger points you set and the consequences that they trigger are ‘reasonable’. There’s no cut-and-paste solution to decide what constitutes a reasonable trigger point in this scenario, so you’ll need to use your own discretion.

When setting your Bradford Factor trigger points, ask yourself what scenarios might arise from that policy – would you feel comfortable defending that policy to a neutral bystander?

What other resources can I use apart from the Bradford Factor calculator? 

As we outlined above, the Bradford factor can be a super useful tool, especially if you don’t have enough resources to deal with HR on your own. 

However, you sure need to be careful about using it. In order for you to make the right choices, we’ve also provided a few guides that have been written by our own in-house HR advisors so you can get extra support: 

We hope these guides will be helpful when you put together your HR policies and decide what you want for your business. 

However, if you’re not sure whether the Bradford Factor is for you or whether these resources will be enough, and you want to be 100% you comply with the law and don’t make any mistakes, perhaps you’d like to have an HR expert by your side. 

At Charlie, our HR advisors can provide all the advice you need with one-to-one support that delivers real results – just simply ask what you’re looking for and our advisors will be happy to help. Book a free call today.

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