The cost of absenteeism is high. Whether it’s resulting from employee burnout, lack of motivation, or just really nice weather outside, if your people are choosing to ditch work, then your organization is in trouble.

The Bradford Factor is a specific type of absenteeism measurement. Based on the theory that shorter, more frequent absences are more detrimental to the organization than longer, less frequent ones, the Bradford Factor measures absenteeism per-employee by duration and frequency.

Let’s get into:

  • Measuring the Bradford Factor
  • What could be causing a high Bradford Factor
  • How to address and reduce your Bradford Factor score

Measuring the Bradford Factor

While measuring absenteeism is relatively simple, the Bradford Factor goes a step beyond. The Bradford Factor can be used to measure both employee and organizational performance, but it is always measured on an individual level.

To measure an employee’s Bradford Factor score, you’ll use the Bradford Formula:

S² x D = B

Whaaaaaat?

Here, “s” is for “spells”—meaning the number of absences over a set period of time. You’ll square this number and then multiply it by “d” for “days”—the total amount of days an employee was absent.

Let’s say you have two employees, Squirtle and Snorlax. Squirtle has been absent for six days this quarter: they took a week off for a family vacation and then had a sick day. Snorlax has been absent for five days this quarter: seems they’ve been under the weather because they were all sick days, though two of those spells were back-to-back.

Squirtle’s Bradford Factor score is 24. 

Snorlax’s score is 45—way higher than Squirtle’s, even though they were absent for fewer days. How’s that possible? 

Since Squirtle’s absences happened in two spells and last six days, his formula is 2² x 6 = 24. Snorlax, however, had three spells, so his formula is 3³ x 5 = 45. What we’re measuring here isn’t just the number of days: it’s the number of spells, because that’s where the problems start.

What’s behind your employee’s high Bradford Factor score?

While the Bradford Factor is traditionally a measure of absenteeism, the problem a high score indicates might go beyond playing hooky.

If you see that an employee is routinely taking short absences, this could be a warning sign not about their performance, but about their health and/or wellbeing. Instead of jumping into a conversation about performance, ask them how they’re doing. How’s their family? How’s their health, mental and physical?

(Want to learn more about HR metrics? Check out our guide to metrics that matter.)

High Bradford Factor scores are a cause for concern, but they can mean more than what you think.

How to address and reduce your Bradford Factor score

You can’t reduce your Bradford Factor score without tackling it head-on. To do so, we suggest creating a set of thresholds for your people and a loose action plan to go with it.

The reason we say loose plan is because not all absences are the same. While an employee who’s regularly absent without cause is a problem for the organization, an employee with a chronic illness is one who should be accommodated for. 

Analytics in HR recommends using this standard scale as a baseline for annual absences:

Points Action
51 points Verbal Warning
201 points Written Warning
401 points Final Warning
601 points Dismissal

By making this scale public and transparent, your employees will understand the consequences of their absenteeism and (hopefully) be motivated to re-commit to their work—or at least have a long talk with their manager.

Addressing absenteeism

Absenteeism is more than a problem: it’s a warning sign about your organization, your people, your managers, and your teammates.

To tackle absenteeism, you have to understand why your people don’t want to be at work. When your culture is strong, your people are loyal—but when engagement is down, it takes productivity down too.


From Shayna Hodkin

Shayna lives in south Tel Aviv with two dogs and a lot of plants. She writes poems and reads tarot.