Aside from the expected holiday leave that you know your staff are inevitably going to be taking through the year and any other unpaid pre-authorised leave that they might ask for, sickness is one of the most common forms of employee absence – and the worst part about it is that there’s no telling when it will happen. 

Unlike holiday and unpaid authorised leave which are requested by the employee in advance of the date/s they want to take off and either approved or rejected by their employer, staff can (and will) phone up at the very last minute to tell you that they’re unwell and cannot attend work. Not ideal when you have a busy workload and a limited number of staff to get the job done. 

Assessing Unauthorised Leave

Disappointingly, out of more than one in five sick days taken, workers have admitted that they probably could have actually made it into work – they just chose not to, despite the impact that they know it has had on their colleagues and the company’s bottom line. 

Sickness absences can affect a business negatively in a number of ways: 

  • There is a financial loss for the company. 
  • The work of the absent employee is delegated to other members of the team, making their own workloads even heavier. 
  • Decreased productivity and morale can occur. 
  • Working relationships can suffer as a result of absenteeism as the staff who are present are expected to pick up extra work so as not to fall behind. 
  • The backlog doesn’t end when the absent employee returns to work as they can spend anything between one and one week to catch up depending on how long they have been off for. 

Why it’s Important to Measure Employee Absence

It’s so important to keep a record of employee absence as it can help you to highlight issues that absenteeism results in within your business and put them right before they become too much for a threat or cost to you. 

Monitoring the unauthorised time that your employees take off will not only help you to spot areas where your business is at risk but will also help to identify any patterns in staff behaviour and absence.  

If you begin to notice that your staff are taking regular time off of work, you could be facing a more fundamental problem, be it with your company culture, the employees’ attitude towards work or even external factors that you may not even be aware of. 

Ways to Measure Absence

Whatever the reasons behind it, it’s clear that keeping tabs on who, when and how often your staff are pulling a sickie, is invaluable for the wellbeing of both your company and your staff themselves. 

Ultimately, any staff absence – especially if it’s long-term, will have a negative impact on your company’s productivity, so you should really think about the measures you have in place to monitor and manage this issue if you don’t already.  

Lost Time Rate

The lost time rate helps you to measure the total percentage of available working time that a staff member has been absent. 

Let’s look at time in terms of an actual month. The following example is based on a 37.5 hour week (7.5 hours per day) in the month of September, which has 21 available working days this year. 

An employee has taken 4 days off sick during this period – a total of 30 hours.

The percentage of lost hours is found as follows: 

  • Total absence for period timesed by 100 (3000 hours)
  • Possible total time worked (157.5 hours)
  • 3000 ÷ 157.5 = 19.04%

This shows that the employee was absent for 19.04% of their total number of available working time during the month of September. 

You could then take this further to calculate the total percentage over the year. 

The same employee who has a holiday allowance of 28 days, has the potential to work 232 days (1,740 hours) in a year and they take 17 days off sick throughout that period. 

23,200 ÷ 1,740 = 13.33%

This shows that the employee was absent for 13.33% of their total number of available working time during the entire year. 

Frequency Rate

The frequency rate measures the average number of absences an employee has as a percentage but doesn’t take account of the length of those absence periods or give you an indication of any employee who takes more than one period of absence.

It is calculated by multiplying the number of absences over a set period by 100, then dividing it by the number of employees.

Bradford Factor Score

The Bradford Factor score is a simple but effective way of measuring and assessing staff sickness both objectively and impartially. It was designed based on the following principle: 

“Short, frequent and unplanned absences are more disruptive than longer absences.” 

In short, it’s much harder for managers to plan around the disruption that multiple short leaves of absence has on the running of a business compared to an employee who has a longer period of time off sick. 

The Bradford Factor formula looks like this: 

S x S x D = Bradford points score

S is the number of occasions of absence in the last 52 weeks and D is the total number of days absence in the last 52 weeks.

For example, an employee who has a total of 14-Days off sick in one rolling 52-week period will have a different Bradford Factor score depending on how those days we taken: 

1 absence of 14-Days – 1 x 1 x 14 = 14


7 absences totalling 14-Days (that’s 2 days per absence) – 7 x 7 x 14 = 686


14 absences totalling 14-Days (that’s 1 day per absence) – 14 x 14 x 14 = 2,744

Generally, managers take the absence over the period of one full year as the inputs for the Bradford factor formula.


These methods are all well and good, but they require a lot of extra manual work. Cloud-based HR software is a cost- and time-effective method when it comes to monitoring employee absence as  

Managing Absenteeism the Right Way

It’s just a fact of life that people are going to be off sick now and then, and there isn’t really anything that you can do to stop it completely; however, as absenteeism can put your business in a sticky spot at times, it’s important to know how to look after your staff and your company by managing absences the right way. 

Have a Sickness Absence Policy

The first and most important thing you should do is ensure that you have an up to date policy in place which can be readily accessed by staff at all times. The policy should clearly set out expected standards of attendance, reporting requirements and the process that will be taken if the policy isn’t adhered to. 

Provide Training

Ensure that anyone likely to receive calls from staff reporting that they are taking the day off sick are trained appropriately to know what information to ask for and how to handle the situation. 

Evidence of Incapacity 

Whether it’s a self-certification document for shorter absences or a doctor’s certificate for absences longer than 7 days, be sure to obtain evidence from the employee of their incapacity to work for your records. 

Keep up Contact

This is especially important when the employee is off on long-term sickness. Stay in touch on a regular basis (without being invasive) – perhaps once a fortnight to make sure that they are okay and to get an update so that you are in the best possible position to manage the impact of their absence at work. 

Maintain a Paper Trail

Keep a record of all correspondence and meetings as well as notes taken from phone conversations and voicemails. All calls should be followed up with a letter to ensure that the information is on paper and include any action plans agreed. 

Return to Work Interview

Holding a return to work interview will help you to understand why the employee was off sick, how they are feeling upon their return to work and if they feel that they are ready to be back. It will also help you to pinpoint whether there are any reasonable adjustments that you can make for them to help to accommodate them. 

Reasonable Adjustment

Employers are expected to consider and make any reasonable adjustments for employees who require them to make work easier or more accessible if they are disabled. 

For the purposes of discrimination law, a person is considered disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.