Sickness absence: How I made a difference – Shirley Powell, head of HR, The Childcare Corporation

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

Lessons learned…

  • Don’t be scared about upsetting people
  • Incentivise staff
  • Generate some healthy competition

  • Disgusted of Bristol

    Shirley sounds like a bit of a fascist. She clearly doesn’t have the slightlest professional trust or respect for her staff and believes that they need ‘sorting out’. I wonder what conditions exist in her organisation that causes such unacceptably high levels of sickness absence? Senior management with antagonistic attitudes towards staff appears to be a possible factor in, what I’d imagine to be, a climate of fear working for the Childcare Corporation. But then Shirley wouldn’t care about that. She’s not scared of upsetting people, and she likes to generate ‘healthy’ competition where people can’t be sick because they fear for their jobs. She also has no fear of using pathetic, made-up words like ‘incentivise’. She sounds a great woman. Hope she doesn’t get ill……..