Is the Bradford Factor still relevant? | HR blog

Published on August 22, 2018 by Fiona Sanderson
    Bradford Factor · Absence · HR
Bradford Factor relevant

Bob has a chronic mental health condition, which requires him to visit his doctor and psychotherapist once every week. Taking one sick day every week has made his Bradford Factor score look really bad. He has explained his condition to his manager, who stated: “we all need to adhere to the company’s policy; the rules are the same for everyone”. As Bob’s Bradford Score reached a trigger point, he received a dismissal letter blaming his persistent absenteeism for this action.

On the face of it, this looks like a fair dismissal. However, Bob argued that it would be better if his employer supported him to resolve his underlying issue and helped him be more productive.

We do agree that no employer wants employees calling in sick every now and then. It’s a real pain. With a looming deadline or critical skill dependency, others have to pitch in to complete the absentee’s work. However, when diversity and flexibility are becoming the new norm for unleashing worker creativity, it's worth considering how much stringent attendance measures like the Bradford Factor hold strength.

Though most managers do care about the wellbeing of their employees, they are suspicious of someone taking repeated one-off sick days. These short, frequent and unplanned periods of absence are more damaging to the business than the long-term absence. Employers view the Bradford Factor as a tool to tackle these unauthorised absences.

The Bradford Factor

The Bradford Factor

This numeric tool has been in practice since 1980s; the big question today is whether this scale is still useful and relevant in the modern flexible workplace.

More and more empirical evidence indicates that employees who feel trusted by their employer to manage how and when they work for themselves can improve their levels of productivity. This emphasises that policeman-like measures such as the Bradford Factor may potentially erode employee trust in the employer, if used incorrectly.

The Bradford Factor resonates more with the McGregor Theory X. This theory proposes that employees dislike their work and have little motivation and therefore encourages an authoritarian style of management. In this scenario, the Bradford Factor may work best by controlling, forcing and threatening people to come to work. However, it does not help create a productive environment where people give their 100%.

Learn more: Bradford Factor disadvantages: understanding absence in context

The Bradford Factor in the age of flexible working

The world of work is enabled by so many forms of technology that workers are no longer required to be glued to their work stations.

Employees can work seamlessly – answering emails while sitting at their child’s sporting event, taking a client call from the comfort of a coffee shop next door, or starting their work day early in the morning to fit a dental appointment in the afternoon, using their laptops, iPhones, tablet and smart watch without a glitch. This was unthinkable three decades ago, back when Bradford Factor was conceptualised.

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Instead of over-monitoring and micromanaging employee attendance, employers need to focus their energies on building a positive atmosphere based on trust, transparency and accountability. Some employers are also deploying employee assistance programs and occupation health services to encourage employees to stay healthy.

Managers must look into the underlying reasons for excessive short-term absences, holding conversations with team members to resolve issues. This will help foster self-empowerment and deepen employees’ connection to the organisation.

Read more from the myhrtoolkit blog

How to reduce absenteeism at work

How to discuss absenteeism with an employee

Picture of Fiona Sanderson

Written by Fiona Sanderson

Fiona is Marketing Manager at myhrtoolkit. Her areas of expertise include HR systems, productivity, employment law updates, and creating HR infographics.

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