Absenteeism and why it needs to decrease


Employee absence is a significant cost for many organisations, yet research suggests that only a minority of employers monitor that cost. Employees may need time off for a variety of reasons, from short-term sickness to longer-term health issues. An effective absence management framework should support the health needs of employees while providing clear and consistent guidance to avoid unauthorised absence or inappropriate use of sick pay schemes.

The effects of absenteeism:

  • Reduced productivity levels
  • High administration costs
  • Increased labour costs if you hire replacement temporary workers
  • Understaffing which could lead to poor customer service
  • Poor morale among colleagues. This will be particularly prevalent if employees constantly have to fill in for absent staff and if they don’t see any retributions for absence

On the other hand, the consequences for the absent member of staff include:

  • Loss of pay for their time off
  • Reduced productivity on their return to work due to a need to ‘catch up’
  • If absenteeism is frequent and unexplained, the member of staff could even face dismissal.

Measuring Absence:

Accurate measurement and monitoring, identifying trends and exploring the underlying causes are key elements in effective absence management.

‘Lost time rate’

This measure expresses the percentage of total time available which has been lost due to absence. It can be calculated separately for different departments to identify areas of concern.

Total absence (hours or days) in the period/Possible total (hours or days) in the period x 100 

Frequency Rate

This measure shows the average number of absences per employee expressed as a percentage. It gives no indication of the length of each absence period or any indication of employees who take more than one spell of absence.

No of spells of absence in the period/ no of employees x 100

The calculation gives an individual frequency rate by counting the number of employees who take at least one spell of absence in the period, rather than the total number of spells of absence

Bradford Factor

By measuring the number of spells of absence, the Bradford Factor identifies persistent short-term absence for individuals and is therefore a useful measure of the disruption caused by this type of absence. It's calculated using the formula:

S x S x D

Where S = number of spells of absence in 52 weeks taken by an individual and

D = number of days of absence in 52 weeks taken by that individual.

For example:

10 one-day absences: 10 x 10 x 10 = 1,000

1 ten-day absence: 1 x 1 x 10 = 10

5 two-day absences: 5 x 5 x 10 = 250

2 five-day absences: 2 x 2 x 10 = 40

It should be noted that the use of Bradford Factor scoring can be controversial and care should be taken when using this as a guide to identify issues with an employee’s absence record. The Bradford Factor can unfairly penalise employees who fall ill and then come back to work as quickly as possible. The reasons for an employee taking frequent periods of absence should be discussed with the employee before any disciplinary action is taken. The Equality Act 2010 ensures that processes and procedures related to absence are adjusted for employees with a disability. A person’s disability may predispose them to regular short-term absences, and this could potentially lead to tribunal action if the employee was unfairly disciplined as a result of receiving a high Bradford Factor score.