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Home » Run Your Business

How to manage sickness absence

Today is Monday. Did everyone turn up today?

One of the biggest problems facing any organisation, large or small is the management of staff absence. According the UK’s Health and Safety Executive, in 2006, sickness absence cost the UK economy £12bn.

In small organisations, the cost of sickness absence can be far more than financial. Loss of knowledge, disruption and impact on customer service can all have a major impact on business survival, especially in these challenging times.

How you manage sickness absence is critical to miminsing business disruption. First of all, it is important that everyone understands that it’s not people being off sick that the business has a problem with, it’s the fact that sickness absence creates additional workload for those in the office and sickness absence, especially frequent, short periods are the most disruptive of all.

Secondly, it’s important that you treat everyone equally and with respect. You don’t want staff members with genuine illnesses to think that they are being victimised.

Therefore, it’s important that all employees have a return to work interview following thier period of sickness absence, documenting their reason for absence and clarifying whether there is anything about the workplace which potentially exacerbates the situation. (For example – workload, bullying/harassment etc).

This is only part of the solution.

I am often asked what is the best method for identifying those individuals who are potentially ‘taking advantage’ by having the odd duvet day and distinguishing from those individuals who have a genuine sickness absence.

For example, everyone knows Tom had 1 week off because of swine flu, but does anyone realise that Jane has had 1-2 days every couple of months for the last year?

Here’s how you identify it

In the late 1980’s the University of Bradford’s School of Management conducted research into absenteeism. They developed a metric called the Bradford Factor, although this is often referred to as the Bradford Formula or Bradford Score.

The metric was developed as a way of highlighting the disproportionate level of disruption on an organisation’s performance which can be caused by short-term absence compared to single incidences of prolonged absence.

Bradford Score

The Bradford Factor score (although looks complicated is surprisingly simple) is calculated as follows:

B = S^2 \times D

where:

  • B is the Bradford Factor score
  • S is the total number of spells (occurrences/instances) of absence of an individual over a set period
  • D is the total number of days of absence of that individual over the period

The period is typically a rolling 52 week period.
For example:

  • An individual has 1 instance of absence with a duration of ten days (1 x 1 x 10) = 10 points
  • An individual is off 5 times; each for a period of two days (5 x 5 x 10) = 250 points
  • An individual is off 10 times during the year, for 1 day each time (10 x 10 x 10) = 1000 points

As you can see it quickly identifies the frequent ‘offenders’ and allows you to focus management action on dealing with them.

It is recommended that in your communication to staff about absence, you explain how it’s measured and why you’re doing it. Where you set your Bradford Score be sure not to set the score too low as it may cause resentment from employees who are genuinely ill or may have the reverse effect and encourage individuals to take longer periods of time off to lower their ‘score’!

Management should regularly review the Bradford Scores of their teams. If presented in a descending order, it’s pretty easy to see who are the biggest ‘offenders’.

Typically, I would recommend that a formal investigation interview is held with each person with a Bradford Score over 80 with a view to returning their score to the average within the workplace over the next 3 months.

Any further period of absence in this period should also be followed up and potentially invoking the Company’s capability policy (ie on the basis that they aren’t present and therefore not capable of undertaking their duties).