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Does reliance on the Bradford Factor affect mental health and result in lazy management?

Occupational Health services can provide an alternative and more human way to help manage employee health at work.

In this era where mental health is supposed to be at the forefront of an organisation’s agenda, why is such a punitive tool like the Bradford Factor still being used? In my 30 years’ experience of working in Occupational Health, I have never experienced an occasion where I have found the Bradford Factor to be anything other than a stick to beat employees with.

Are all employees work shy? In my opinion, using this out of date tool appears to assume that all employees are work shy individuals who will take any opportunity to pull a sickie. This is simply not true and is not helpful in moving the mental health agenda forward? How does this treatment of employees, support all of our aspirations to improve mental health in the workplace? How does it create a supportive productive company culture?

What is the evidence? When you delve a bit deeper, the Bradford Factor does not have any robust evidence based provenance. In other words there is no peer reviewed research or statistical evidence to support the benefits of its use. It is therefore the equivalent of The Emperor’s New Clothes. Would organisations buy in any other ‘piece of kit’ which was so unproven? I don’t think so.

Is it lazy Management? So why are companies still using something which is unproven, and which has a detrimental effect on employee mental health? Is it good management practice to rely on a computer programme to tell you when your employees are off and to then threaten often vulnerable employees with disciplinary action?

Using the Bradford Factor turns the return to work meeting into a possible disciplinary scenario instead of an opportunity to discuss what support is needed. It turns the Manager into a robot and fails to identify the core issues which are impacting on attendance.

If an employee has a health issue and needs to attend treatment appointments, threatening disciplinary action via Bradford Factor scoring, will cause additional stress and distress, but the employee will still need time off work. Employees often tell me that they take longer periods of absence whilst in treatment as this reduces their Bradford score. How is this helpful?

What is the alternative? What about the development of management skills as an alternative? What about leadership, culture and values? What about having a budget for health and not just sickness? How much is the Bradford Factor software costing you? Is this the best use of your budget? What else could you do?

As an alternative, Managers could be taught how to view absence as an opportunity to identify early signs that their employees have an issue. They can then support the employee, so that further absences are managed and minimised as far as possible. Examples of this could be reasonable adjustments, special leave, flexible working, referral to Occupational Health etc.

Time for a rethink? Software which helps employers to identify accurately their levels of sickness absence is helpful, but stops short of helping to put strategies in place to reduce absence in the future. In other words. it is a quick fix and does not develop Managers or encourage them to work closely with Occupational Health so that they can learn how to manage attendance and work capability effectively.

It is now time for organisations who use the Bradford Factor to have a rethink. If a longer term strategy which replaces the Bradford Factor with ongoing management training and development can be put in place, it will be the single most important action a company can take to improve everyone’s mental health.

Let’s create a Wellbeing Factor as a measurement instead of the Bradford one.