Too sick to work
In a small team, managing sickness absence can be a real pain. When the work can’t easily be spread around or delayed, and every deadline is critical, it means extra pressure on colleagues, and the team manager, who will probably end up picking up their direct report’s work.
Striking the balance between caring about our people’s well being and the day to demands of a fast growing business is really hard. With new research suggesting that “presenteeism” is on the rise, how do we fulfill our duties as managers to ensure we manage sickness absence effectively? No-one wants sick employees in the workplace spreading their germs around. But if sickness absence is creeping up in your team, it can be hard to know what to do. How much is sickness is normal and acceptable, and how much is unusual – and what should you do about it?
The Bradford factor
One tool that is widely used is the Bradford factor scoring method. You might have heard about it, but is it the right route for your business?
Simply put, the Bradford factor is a method of measuring sickness absence that distinguishes between longer spells of absence and shorter, more frequent ones. An employee could have the same number of days’ absence but a different Bradford factor score due to the number of spells or periods of absence. It’s an effective way of indicating to employees that frequent, shorter spells of absence are more disruptive to the team and the organisation than longer, less frequent ones.
The Bradford factor scoring mechanism should only ever be used as a benchmark, and it’s important to be aware that it doesn’t take account of underlying medical conditions or a disability. You’ll need a robust sickness absence policy in place too, covering both short term and long term sickness absences, such as these free policy templates available from Air. Tread very carefully when dealing with long term sickness absence, as you need to be aware of the risk of discrimination legislation and disabilities, which might be hidden. Do make sure you have a recent, relevant and updated equal opportunity policy to cover this issue too. You can find a free equal opportunity policy template on Air.
Make it clear to your employees that excessive absences, defined by the trigger factors that you have benchmarked for your organisation, or abuse of the sickness absence reporting procedure on their part may lead to disciplinary action, including dismissal. You can find a free disciplinary policy template on Air.
All your policies should set out your procedure, they should be fair to the the employee, and you should always ensure that you follow them. Failure to do could land you in front of an employment tribunal.
Different Bradford benchmark scores may apply to different organisations, depending on the nature of the business. The key is for managers to be in constant communication with their staff, to understand the nature of any absence and take early action to handle underlying medical issues.
Should you use the Bradford factor?
Before introducing it, consider whether it is right for your business. Do you have problem levels of absence? If so, there may be other factors at work, whether it’s a long hours culture, a poor performance management system, or a poor fit of people’s skills to their roles. Any of these could lead to workplace stress, and are a sign that people’s psychological contracts are being broken.
Tracking sickness absence on Air
Make sure you spend time tracking absence trends using a tool such as Air’s real-time HR dashboard to uncover trends over the weeks and months and by teams. You can use Air’s time off requesting and reporting feature to ease the pressure and burden of tracking holidays. We’ve seen managers come to us screaming that absence is a huge problem in their teams, because a couple of people have gone off sick leaving them in the lurch, only to find out after careful analysis that the particular individuals had a flawless attendance record for the past 10 years and the real problem was that management had failed to train anyone else to handle the workload or build up resilience in the team to cope with normal “business as usual” disruption.
If you do decide to go down the Bradford factor route, we’d recommend reviewing management training to ensure that all team managers have the skills to manage absence and employee well being effectively. We’ve seen businesses introduce the Bradford factor scoring system into a business, and the danger is that it can result in employees “gaming” the system. People figure out the trigger points and time their absences to be just under them. There is a danger you’ll see big spikes just before the end of the period as people “cash in” their unused Bradford sickness days.
Return to work
Whatever sickness absence monitoring policy you use, its vital that your management has a robust return to work process. Ensure that you collect fit notes and follow your own procedures for disciplinary relating to sickness absence. Employees should be clear on the processes that are followed if they do need to take sickness absence, and what the consequences are going to be of not following them. We suggest keeping all your policies in one easy to access location, and communicating any changes regularly. Use Air’s company files area to do this simply and easily.
Free HR Templates
You can access all the free HR policy templates you need to manage sickness absence here.
People are always going to get sick. But easing them back into work, doing what you can to support medical needs and building up resilience in the teams are key to a healthy, productive workplace.