A Court Coincidence? Wimbledon coincides with days most people call in sick

Becky Mundie

Jun 2024 ⋅ 4 min read

2023 spoiled us with events, what with World Cups from women’s football to men’s rugby, the ever-anticipated summer of Glastonbury and, of course, Wimbledon.

We analysed the sickness data of more than 130,000 UK workers over the summer months of 2023 to see if any events coincided with the most sickness absences (no one asked us to. We thought it would be fun) - and found Wimbledon to be the summer event that, coincidentally, occurs at the same time that most people call in sick.

Now, first things first, ‘coincidence’ is an important term here. Actual sickness comes into play, which will have amplified with heat-related illnesses over 2023 having the ‘hottest summer on record’, described to have been “unparalleled over the past 2000 years.” This, alongside other genuine sicknesses, train strikes continuing from 2022, and childcare issues during summer holidays (to name a few), should be considered against our findings.

So, let’s play into this coincidence and look at the quirks hiding in the data. 

As the Women’s World Cup approached, we suspected we might see more sickness absence following the Lionesses’ historic Euros win in 2022, but that wasn’t the case! From our data, people seemed more likely to call in sick over the final week of Wimbledon than for any other sporting event, festival, or summer mainstay (like Pride or the Notting Hill Carnival). Glastonbury joined some top-scoring events, like the first day of the Rugby World Cup and the last day of the Men’s Ashes, totalling 2.37% of the 130K summer sickness absences.

The online viewing figures for Wimbledon back in 2022 set a new record, with almost 53.8 million views across the 14-day competition. But 2023 trumped that record with its own. The BBC’s digital coverage exceeded expectations with 54.3 million streams on BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport online. As for BBC One, Sunday 16th July 2023’s final between Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic peaked at 11.3 million live viewers. This match was the highest audience since Andy Murray’s 2016 win and saw a 58% rise in streams from 2022’s figures.

Back in 2022, almost 26 million people tuned in to watch the semi-final between Cameron Norrie and Novak Djokovic on Friday July 8th. This was the number 1 day that people were most likely to take off sick over the summer of 2022 (with an increase of 40% in the sickness absence rate.) But this increased for 2023.

It wasn’t just the views that broke records - attendance set a new one, too, with 2023’s Championship welcoming 532,651 guests. 

During this fortnight, 19k out of the 130k summer sicknesses were recorded. However, instead of the final seeing the peak in absences like in 2022, the highest amount recorded was for the 11th July 2023 - the day following Magic/Manic Monday (the famed, most popular day of Wimbledon). 8.04% of the suggested Wimbledon absences were on this day, the highest of the 14 days.

The Wimbledon day that followed was Andy Murray’s first match. It was a Friday, heading into the first weekend of Wimbledon, with 7.93% absences. Fridays likely see higher absence rates as they head into the weekend - especially for an anticipated event.

So, whether key sporting events and sickness absence rates are linked is highly debatable, but it’ll be interesting to see if we see a similar increase next month when the Wimbledon finals start for 2024.

Again, this is all coincidence. But it is interesting nonetheless! 

Correlation doesn’t always equal causation. Remember, it’s mostly genuine illness that contributes to sickness absence figures, so these findings should be taken with a (somewhat large) pinch of salt. However, this fun piece of research simply highlights an interesting quirk in sickness data — that Wimbledon in the last few years saw typically higher than usual sickness absence rates. 

Following the “hottest summer on record” in 2023, it will be interesting to see how the data reflects against 2024’s summer - seeing as there are predictions for it to be the UK’s wettest summer since the year the Titanic sank! 😂

But, come on. When has the British weather ever stopped us?

How can we pre-emptively manage an increase in absences?

Staff are less likely to pull a sickie if they have more say in when and what they work.

Allowing flexibility like shift swaps and staff to set availability, as well as encouraging time off in lieu (TOIL) can make employees feel more in control of their shifts. 

Managing shifts, annual leave, and absences all from one place allows you to have a full view of your workforce - so, when peak summer approaches and you find yourself with many AL and shift swap requests, you can easily see how well-staffed you will be. No more finding yourself short-staffed or without cover.

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