Meetings: Where Workplace Productivity Goes to Die

Okay, the heading of this blog post might be a little harsh, but seriously, who’s with me that sometimes meetings can be a fruitless time suck. Not all meetings are bad, but a nonproductive meeting culture definitely reduces workplace productivity.

Think about it: In any given workday, how many different ways do we sabotage ourselves by not getting our work done? Ten minutes talking about “Game of Thrones” season opener, then watching a funny cat video, it adds up. But the worst offender of all–strangely–can be meetings.

According to a recent study, the average American spends 9 hours per week in regular status meetings and preparing for those meetings. That’s a full day each week. If your average employee has a $45,000 salary, it would cost your organization about $25 for this person to sit in an hour-long meeting. That’s $225 a week, $11,700 a year. Nearly a quarter of their salary.

And the costs just keep adding up

Let’s expand this calculation to a weekly departmental meeting. Say you have a group of 10:

    • One executive with a salary of $120,000;
    • Two senior employees with an average salary of $80,000;
    • Four mid-level employees with an average salary of $55,000;
    • Three junior employees with an average salary of $40,000.

Given that group, your weekly staff meeting costs the organization $380 a week, or almost $20,000 over the course of a year. That’s for one weekly meeting.

Can you show a return on investment for a $20,000 per year for a weekly departmental meeting? Would you consider a budget line item for $20,000 that you could not justify? It’s not acceptable for other forms of organizational expenditures, and meetings should be no exception.

That’s just the monetary cost

There are also indirect costs to holding meetings:

  • The cost of lost productivity after the meeting, as participants are trying to get back into their groove;
  • The lost opportunity cost for tasks employees could have been working on if they weren’t in meetings;
  • The decrease in morale, especially if employees consistently leave meetings with a feeling of. “Why did they waste my time with that?” Decreased morale leads to decreased productivity.
  • And if the meeting starts late (which, of course, never happens), the organization is paying for a group to sit around a table for 5-10 minutes until everyone has arrived.

Here are three ways meetings can hinder productivity.

1. Everyone’s Invited

Not everyone needs to be invited to every meeting. It’s a work meeting, not a party. People’s feelings won’t hurt if they aren’t invited (believe me, they will thank you instead). There’s no greater time suck than sitting through an hour-long meeting when you don’t need to be there, drawing flowers in your notebook.

2. Meetings beget meetings. Too long, too many.

Why are most meetings 30-60 minutes? Because that is the easiest way to book in Outlook or your scheduling manager? Does it really take 30-60 minutes? Could you find the solution without meeting?  When you have a meeting-heavy culture, it can perpetuate a vicious cycle where employees don’t feel empowered to make their own decisions without meeting first.

3. We have work to do, people.

Technically, meetings are work. But for many employees, meetings keep them from accomplishing the tasks they are hired to accomplish. Two hours of meetings—plus all of the “half hours” in between meetings where you can’t get momentum—shortens time for project deadlines.

Basically, Mismanaged Meetings are Maddening

Are your meetings mismanaged? Few companies actually train their employees on how to manage effective meetings, when managing meetings could eliminate many of these issues.

So, if you’re going to schedule a meeting, here are a few tips:

1. Make sure the agenda and the invitees are tight.

If it’s a meeting with a lot of people and moving parts, let people know when they should arrive and when they can leave.

2. Assign prep work.

Have people come prepared.

3. Define your purpose.

All meetings are not created equal—they can be informational, decision-making or input-orientated. Understanding your objective will help you run your meeting accordingly.

4. Hand out roles.

You should have a leader and facilitator. The facilitator is key. If that person is you, that is fine, but you’ll want someone paying attention to team dynamics, cutting off tangents and mining for productive conflict.

The bottom line is this: Time is valuable. Yours, especially! Take the time to plan shorter, less frequent, more productive meetings. Everyone wins!
dilbert on meetings

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