A member of staff phones in sick, the manager groans inwardly while making sympathetic noises, then scrabbles around frantically trying to get someone else to cover the individual’s work. The gap gets filled (generally thanks to the extra effort and good nature of the rest of the team) – and by the time the employee tips up back at a work a few days later it’s all been forgotten.
It’s easy to understand how this kind of scenario arises but it’s a serious issue. So what can you do to get a better understanding of how short term absence is really affecting your business – so that you can put plans in place to tackle it?
Firstly, you can’t manage anything without measuring it, so you need to look at the systems you have in place to record absences. It your process isn’t straightforward and the tools to manage it easy to use, chances are it will be ignored. Everyone is just too busy.
If you haven’t already done so, look at investing in an HR software system that allows employees and managers to easily log planned and unplanned absences. These systems have the advantage of providing a single, secure database of HR information that’s much easier to interrogate and manage than using Excel spreadsheets or other more manual methods of recording time off. They also are much easier to use for employees, and provide managers with an overview of what’s happening in their team and allowing them to quickly get back to the day job.
Once you’ve got the data, you need to analyse it before taking the appropriate action. This is where the Bradford Factor comes in.
It is a formula which can be used to generate an absence ‘score’ for individual employees. It is based on the theory that frequent short and unplanned absences are more disruptive to the business than long-term absences. The basic premise is that the higher the score a member of staff has, the more disruption they are causing your company.
A good HR software system should have range of absence reports baked in, including ones based on the Bradford Factor, and should let you slice and dice information in different ways, for example to look at absences over different time periods, or within different departments.
Many businesses use Bradford Factor scores as ‘triggers’ to alert them when an employee’s absence levels reach worrying or unacceptable levels. Guidance is given on average scores, but companies can in fact set their own ‘triggers’ depending on what they deem appropriate for their business.
The Bradford Factor works best when used as part of a wider absence management strategy rather than as a stand-alone tool. It also comes with a few caveats. Companies need to make sure, for example, that they are not setting trigger points at an unrealistic level (after all, many short term absences are genuine) or that they are not inadvertently discriminating against people who have health conditions or disabilities that result in frequent short-term absences.
It is, however, a useful guide as to when it is appropriate for whatever absence management procedure the company may have to swing into action. A score above a certain level may mean, for example, that the manager starts to implement ‘return to work’ interviews to establish why a particular individual has been off sick.
Often, it is at this stage that the real reasons for frequent absences come to light. It could be that a member of staff is struggling with child or elder care responsibilities, is experiencing problems with another member of staff or is feeling they can’t cope because of an unacceptably heavy workload.
A very high Bradford Factor score may signal that there is a real issue with responsibility and commitment to the job – and that a more formal disciplinary measure (such as an initial warning letter) may need to be invoked.
The scores the Bradford Factor generates are extremely useful data that companies can use to inform their strategies for reducing short term absence. But use of the tool can have more subtle effects too. If employees know the business is actively monitoring individual absence rates, they are less likely to thrown a ‘sickie’ if they’ve had a heavy weekend or are feeling a bit under par but are perfectly capable of going into work.
The plain truth about just how much time they are having off can also come as a shock to some employees, who may have fallen into the habit of taking the odd day off here and there because they know they won’t be pulled up on it. Often people simply don’t realise how much these odd ‘sickies’ are adding up to and how it’s affecting the business.
Is your business using the Bradford Factor? Let us know what strategies you have in place for managing short term absence.