How can you measure employee absence?

5 min read  |   19 March, 2021   By Laura Sands

Sad looking dog wrapped in a blanket sitting on a bed

Employee absence takes a number of forms. Planned absence such as annual leave or parental leave is typically easier to handle because you have enough notice to take on temporary staff or adjust workloads until your absent employee has returned. With a little planning you can smooth over any blips in productivity.

Unplanned absence can be more problematic for an SME. By its very nature, you don’t normally get advance warning that an employee will be injured, sick or need to take compassionate leave.

Having one less person on your team, even if it’s just for a day, can affect your business. This is especially the case if you have a small team who you heavily rely upon.

The impact of absenteeism

Unplanned absences do more than reduce the affected employee’s productivity. Because of the tight-knit nature of so many SMEs, absence from just one or two employees can cause problems. These might include:

  • Lower future productivity for the absent employee as they catch up with the work they have missed
  • Increased stress and decreased productivity for non-absent employees as they cope with the sudden extra workload
  • Decreased customer satisfaction as your employees struggle to handle the additional pressure of extra work
  • Lost hours for managers and owners as they handle the administration associated with employee absence


Out of office sign pinned to a black office chair-min


The importance of measuring employee absence

Tracking employee absence can help your business in more than one way. It will give you the bare facts of which employees are frequently off work but will also highlight issues you’re facing within the business that might otherwise go unnoticed. More importantly, tracking absence rates gives you a chance to correct those problems before they cost your business too much.

Unplanned absence has a variety of causes:

  • A staff member may be suffering from a particular illness and need extra support.
  • Bullying might mean employees feel unable to speak out about their treatment and choose to take time off rather than face their aggressors.
  • An employee might not have the skills needed to do the job and require further training.
  • Some employees may avoid taking their annual leave allowance. This leads to them becoming exhausted and unwell.
  • Employees with caring duties may be unable to handle them within their current work schedule. They end up using sick leave to care for children or take relatives to hospital appointments.
  • A few individuals may have a poor work ethic and ‘pull a sickie’ to get an extra day off.

If your monitoring reveals some staff members are regularly absent, there could be a more fundamental problem within your company culture to address.

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.


The importance of measuring employee absence

Lost time rate

The lost time rate calculation shows the time lost due to absence as a percentage of the total time available.

For example, total working hours in a month for Bob are 162.5 based on 7.5 hour days. Bob is absent 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 calculation ignores the total time lost and measures the average number of absences per employee as a percentage.

This absence tracking method 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 dividing the number of absences (multiplied by 100) by the number of employees in your organisation.

For example, if you have 16 employees and have experienced 4 absences over a period, then the calculation would be:

Total absence for the period: 4 x 100 = 400

Divide the result by the number of employees: 400 ÷ 16 = 25%


Bradford factor

Using this method allows you to measure the number of spells of absence. It helps you to identify persistent short-term spells of absence and can be useful in identifying 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

You must take care when using this method because it could unfairly penalise someone who falls ill but comes back to work too quickly, and then needs to take more time off.

Use our Bradford factor calculator.

Absence tracking software

Monitoring employee absence is easier and more reliable if you use specialist software. Cloud-based HR software such as Breathe can be an effective, yet cost-effective way of monitoring employee absence because of the way it lets you 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 with appropriate steps being taken.


Author: Laura Sands

Laura is a writer who enjoys getting into the detail of subjects and sharing that knowledge with snappy, interesting content. When not typing away, she enjoys walks in the woods and curling up with a good book and mug of something hot.

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