Sickness and absenteeism at The Childcare Corporation were rocketing, and costing us hundreds of thousands of pounds. You cannot run a nursery without people. If someone is sick, it has a real knock-on effect – you have to hire replacements, call people back in from leave, get bank cover. The cost for a day is three times the cost of that one person’s salary.
Last summer, I implemented the Bradford Factor (a points system where the more sick days you take, the more points you accrue) across all 20 nurseries. At staff meetings, I told them: “Your nursery, last year, cost us this amount of money. Wouldn’t that be better spent on salaries, improvements to the nursery, maybe more holidays?”
I wanted to demonstrate how destructive frequent short-term absence is in this company. The Bradford Factor scores are a way of indicating people’s patterns of absence. We spent three months implementing it, and then we displayed the individual scores in the staff rooms. This was a real wake-up call for employees, and I risked my personal credibility – I had to assure the directors that it wasn’t going to backfire.
The response was peer pressure among the individual teams if the Bradford Factor score is 14-plus, you get a verbal warning, then a written warning, and no-one wanted that on their nursery records. It was enlightening. I didn’t expect to see the staff on the shop floor put pressure on themselves. I’ve seen this work in a production and engineering environment, but this is the care sector, where the line is: ‘I’ve got 10 days off sick this year, and I’m going to take them’.
People stopped taking Fridays and Mondays off. Sickness absence has fallen by about 25%. By reducing it by 10%, we brought it back down to the bottom line, and once it passed 20%, we actually started saving an enormous amount of money. There is real competition between the individual nurseries. We even have a league table, published in a monthly newsletter which goes out to every member of staff.
Implementing the Bradford Factor was an enormous gamble. It’s something that’s never been done here before, but I felt that I had to act dynamically.
Shirley Powell, head of HR, The Childcare Corporation
- Don’t be scared about upsetting people
- Incentivise staff
- Generate some healthy competition