If you have staff you will inevitably have periods of employee absence whether that’s due to sickness, injury, planned periods away from work or other reasons such as bereavement leave. Absence is a significant cost to business but according to research, two thirds of organisations don’t monitor it. However, monitoring absence can give you a broader view of the health of your business and support employees by offering clear guidance on absence and your company’s sickness policy.

Why is it important to measure employee absence?

Keeping a record of employee absence is important because it can highlight issues you’re facing within the business that might otherwise go unnoticed, and more importantly, give you a chance to put them right before they cost your business too much. If you don’t have any procedures in place you might not realise a particular staff member is taking excessive time off. However, if you do have a monitoring system set up you can start to assess the reasons why absence is occurring.

It might be because a staff member is suffering from a particular illness and needs extra support at work but equally it could be for more insidious reasons, for example they’re being bullied but don’t feel able to speak out about their treatment. It might also reveal that they’re taking time off because they’re not up to the job and require further training or simply that they’re a little bit 'work-shy', in which case you can start to take the appropriate disciplinary measures.

If your monitoring reveals many staff are absent on a regular basis, there could be a more fundamental problem with your company culture which needs addressing. Or, you could have an issue with health and safety which is impacting on the wellbeing of multiple members of staff.

Ultimately, any employee absence, and especially prolonged or multiple employee absence, will have an impact on your company’s productivity.

Ways to measure employee absence

Lost time rate

This expresses the total time available and the time lost as a percentage of the total.

For example, total working hours in a month for Bob are 162.5 based on 7.5 hour days. Bob is sick for three days in one month which amounts to 22.5 hours lost.

The percentage of lost hours is calculated as follows:

  • Total absence (hours or days) for period (22.5 hours x 100)
  • Possible total (hours or days) in period 162.5
  • 2250 ÷ 162.5 = 13.84%

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

Using this method will allow you to measure the number of spells of absence. It helps you to identify persistent short-term spells of absence and can therefore identify any problems with particular employees.

The formula for this is S x S x D

S = number of spells of absence in 52 weeks taken by an employee

D = number of days of absence in 52 weeks taken by an employee

For example:

Eight one-day absences and the formula would be 8 x 8 x 8 = 521

One eight-day absence: 1 x 1 x 8 = 8

Care needs to be taken when using this method because it could unfairly penalise someone who falls ill but comes back to work really quickly to make up for it.

Software that can help you track and manage absence

Cloud-based HR software can be an effective yet cost-effective way of monitoring employee absence because it will record those all-important patterns. You will be able to create reports as a result which give you an indication of your company’s overall performance.

Any regular or prolonged absences can then be discussed with employees as part of the appraisal process and disciplinary action take if and when necessary.