The Impact of Too Many Meetings
February 21, 2023
There have been many articles published on employee burnout and Zoom fatigue, but one important element folks don’t seem to be discussing is the lack of time available to get things done because there are just too many meetings. This has really sparked my interest. As I look at my own calendar with very few openings during the day, and as colleagues talk about not being able to get work done other than in the evening or over the weekend, it is clear - we need to do something about the excessive number of meetings.
Let’s start with some statistics from Booqed, a company whose focus is to increase productivity:
- Over the past decade, time spent in meetings has increased annually by 8-10%
- 11% of surveyed employees spent (in 2021) between 12 and 20 hours in meetings and 4.73% spend more than 20 hours (I fall into this category)
- 83% of employees spend up to a third of their week in meetings
- 47% complained that the meetings were a waste of time
- 45% feel overwhelmed by the number of meetings they are asked to attend
- The average employee spends 9 minutes preparing for meetings (if they have 5 meetings each day, another 45 minutes of their day is spent preparing for those meetings) or they come unprepared, which eats into the effectiveness of the meeting
- On average, an hour-long meeting with 5 employees costs $338 (makes you think about the necessity of those meetings) and the more senior the meeting attendees are, the higher the cost
- 91% of employees have reported daydreaming during meetings, 39% admitted to falling asleep, and 73% report trying to do other work
I doubt these statistic will shock anyone, but when we look at them as a whole, it speaks to the fact there are too many meetings. More and more work is getting pushed to the next week and the week after that, things fall through the cracks, tasks are poorly executed – in other words, collectively we are doing mediocre work. And this causes stress, which ultimately has a cost to both the employee and the company.
For companies struggling financially, meetings reduce productivity, which costs money. When a department is begging for another position because the team is overwhelmed, perhaps fewer meetings would solve the problem by freeing up valuable time to execute the actual work. When things fall through the cracks, it costs the company money – whether that is in lost clients or revenue, etc. When people are burned out and doing mediocre work, it costs the company money. Harvard Business Review calculates companies spend more than $37 billion on meetings. CBS News reported that companies with 5,000 employees waste $100 million annually on unnecessary meetings. They add, “For a company with 100 employees, the financial savings from eliminating unnecessary meetings would amount to $2.5 million per year.”
It is unrealistic to think we can get rid of all meetings. Meetings can be highly valuable when they are run effectively, are not too large, and have established outcomes. So, how can we reduce the number of meetings each day or week or month? Here some options to get started:
- Think about the purpose of the meeting – is it make a decision, brainstorm, or to disseminate information? Once you have determined the type of meeting, follow the Harvard Business model of 8/18/1800. If it is a decision-making meeting – no more than 8 people are effective. If it is a brainstorming meeting, include no more than 18 – again, too many people in the room reduces productivity. Finally, if you are sharing information, then you can have as many as you want, say 1800.
- Determine who needs to be in the room. Do not include everyone and their colleague. Think strategically and invite those who are representative or bring needed knowledge to the topic at hand. It is also important to include those who are willing to listen, speak truth to power, but not be obstructionist. The goal is to get things done – civil discourse is welcome (encouraged even), just avoid those who want to put up barriers.
- Meetings should be shorter. If an hour meeting is scheduled, people will fill the hour. Therefore, schedule 30-minute and 15-minute meetings.
What Companies Can do:
- Declare a common lunch hour where no meetings are scheduled unless lunch is provided. This could be from noon to 12:30 or 12:30 to 1:00. All too often lunch becomes nibbles between meetings. We all need at least 30 minutes to eat, take care of personal needs, and to recharge. Hungry employees are not as creative or productive.
- Declare Monday mornings and Friday afternoons (or something like that) as no meeting periods. This gives employees time to get settled on Monday mornings to prepare for the week, and then on Friday to tie up loose ends, so they can close their computers at the end of the day and enjoy their weekend. According to an MIT Sloan Management study targeting companies who implemented at least one no-meeting day – “The subsequent impact was profound…When one no-meeting day per week was introduced, autonomy, communication, engagement, and satisfaction all improved, resulting in decreased micromanagement and stress, which caused productivity to rise.” Specifically, “When meetings were reduced by 40% (the equivalent of two days per week), we found productivity to be 71% higher…”
- Remind staff there is a cost to meetings and to charge them with finding alternative options when appropriate, i.e., can that information be shared via email, does it have to be a meeting?
- Develop practices that ensure high functioning employees who get labeled as “doers” are not staffing too many meetings, it’s time to spread the meetings around.
You can start today by blocking out time on your calendar, scheduling shorter meetings, and keeping meeting members to eight or less. However, to have a real impact – there needs to be a culture change. Companies need to realize the impact too many meetings have on employee morale, well-being, productivity, and ultimately revenue.
Anne Converse Willkomm
Associate Dean, Graduate College
Associate Teaching Professor, Dept. of Communication, College of Arts and Sciences