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How to Measure Employee Absence

13 August 2019 7 min read

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Absence is an inevitability of running a business and measuring it can be a challenge. In this blog, we’ll explain how to measure employee absence in your company, and how to act on the insights you obtain.

You need people to make your business work. People will get sick, and injured. So they will take time off. There’s no avoiding it. So if you want to minimise disruption, you’ll have to come up with plans and policies to lessen the impact that employee absence has on your company.

We’ve already explored some of the ways you can reduce sickness absence. The trick is to make it less likely that any of your employees will fall sick or get injured in the first place. You’ll never be able to entirely eradicate unplanned absence. But through making certain changes to the workplace, and through becoming a champion of employee wellbeing, you can make a huge difference.

Yet one of the most powerful ways to reduce unplanned absence in your company is to start measuring employee absence. The better you understand the absence trends in your organisation, the bigger a difference you can make to your efficiency and productivity.

Why measure employee absence?

Knowing when your staff is most likely to call in sick, you can introduce policies to help make unplanned absence less likely.

We recently analysed the absence data of 500 UK employees. We found that the single worst day for employee absence in 2018 was the last Monday of November.

Let’s say you analyse your absence data, and you find that employee absence tends to soar every November. What would you do with this information?

Well, think about November. It’s cold, it’s dark, and there’ll be a lot of nasty bugs going around. Plus, Christmas is just around the corner. And with all the pressures it brings, financial or otherwise, Christmas can be a source of acute anxiety for many.

All these factors are going to add up. People are going to feel ill, stressed, demoralised, and in desperate need of a break. So is it any wonder that employee absence peaks in November? Even if your staff doesn’t succumb to sickness at this time of year, they may still feel sorely tempted to take a duvet day.

Acting on employee absence data

If you know when employee absence is highest for your company, you can start to develop plans and policies to safeguard your business against disruption. Think of chilly, stressful November, for example. Those cold dark mornings may make the idea of commuting unbearable. So why not let your employees work from home?

And think about all those financial fears people may face in the run-up to Christmas. How could you help allay those fears? Could you bring in a specialist to offer free and confidential financial support and advice? Or maybe you could see if there’s enough of a budget to offer your staff Christmas bonuses.

But beyond all this, something as simple as an open-door policy could work wonders. Make it clear to your team that they must feel free to discuss anything with you, big or small, in the strictest confidentiality. You might not be able to give them the help they need, but you could at least signpost them to a support provider. And if nothing else, it pays to let your employees know that they need never suffer in silence.

Furthermore, the insights you gain from understanding your employee absence data can directly inform your employee wellbeing program. Say you find that short-term sickness is rife in your company, for example. Nutritious food and a culture that champions good living and exercise could make your entire team healthier and happier in the long-run.

How to calculate absence rate

So we’ve looked at the why. Now let’s explore how. Broadly speaking, there are three ways to measure employee absence. But firstly, it’s easy to calculate the absence rate.

To calculate employee absence rate, take the total absences records and divide that by your total number of employees. This will give you a percentage.

How to measure employee absence

1. Lost Time Rate

This is a measure of the total time available, and the time lost expressed as a percentage of the total.

Say an employee is contracted for 7.5 hour days five days a week. In a month, they’ll work around 150 hours. If they’re off sick for two days in a month, that amounts to 15 lost hours. So the lost time rate for this employee in this month would be 10%, as they’ve lost 15 hours out of their total 150.

2. Frequency Rate

This one’s easier to calculate than the lost time rate, but it doesn’t provide the same level of accuracy. It will give you a broad picture of just how prevalent employee absence is in your company. And this figure alone might suggest that something’s amiss.

It involves measuring your whole team’s average number of absences as a percentage. You won’t learn anything about the length of each absence. It also won’t tell you whether any of your employees are more prone to absence than others.

To work out the frequency rate, just multiply the total number of absences over a set period by 100, then divide this figure by your total number of employees.

3. Bradford Factor Scoring

This might be the most useful means of measuring absence. But it’s also the hardest to calculate. It’s a way of measuring the number of spells of absence. If an employee regularly takes short-term spells of absence, it might suggest a deeper underlying problem.

You can work out an employee’s absence factor score using the formula SxSxD. S is the number of periods of absence taken in 52 weeks by an employee. D is the total number of days of absence taken in the same 52 week period.

So if an employee has nine one-day absences, their Bradford Factor Score would be 729 (9x9x9). But if an employee takes a single nine-day absence, their Bradford Factor Score would be 9 (1x1x9).

A Bradford Factor Score doesn’t tell the whole story. That first employee might have had a very good reason to take nine spells of one-day absence in 52 weeks. So it’s important to remember that a high Bradford Factor score isn’t necessarily a red flag. It’s just a sign that it might be time to discuss with the employee, to see if there’s anything you can do to help make their absences less likely in the future.

4. Use a centralised absence management system

Don’t make things hard for yourself. Calculating absence rates and spotting trends can be a massive headache when it involves scouring endless spreadsheets and reams of paperwork.

So why not make things as easy as possible with our world-famous absence management software?

Our secure cloud-based system includes automatic absence reporting, Bradford Factor scoring and returns to work forms.

We empower companies to understand their absence trends like never before. We’ll give you all the insights you need to introduce policies that will make a powerful difference to your company. On average, our clients report 53% less absence than the CIPD average. That’s a saving of £489 per employee per year.

We want you to see the difference for yourself. So we’re allowing you to try the world’s favorite absence management system for free.

Book a free demo and see the difference for yourself!

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Katrina Bennett People Director at edays
August 13, 2019

Katrina is edays' own People Director with significant UK and international experience in delivering people strategy and value-adding HR solutions across a range of organisations and sectors (including Arriva, Boots, Rolls Royce, the utility and charity sectors). Katrina has over 20 years of experience in Human Resources and is CIPD qualified.