Home performance management 3 Steps to End Excessive Meetings and The Emotional Toll They Take

3 Steps to End Excessive Meetings and The Emotional Toll They Take

Opinion Piece: Michael Miller, Projects Manager, 6seconds.org shares tips to improve Emotional Intelligence at Work


The Modern workplace has a serious meeting problem.  

The number of meetings someone attends depends, of course, on that person’s job and industry, but on average, people are attending more meetings than ever before.

The average worker attends 8 meetings per week, a number that increases to 12 per week for middle managers and keeps climbing as you go up the corporate ladder. Middle managers spend around 30% of their time in meetings, upper management around 50% of their time in meetings and the average CEO a whopping 72% of their time – a massive 37 meetings per week, per Zippia.

It hasn’t always been this way. Meetings have increased in length and frequency over the past 50 years, according to research from Harvard Business Review. In the 1960s, the average executive spent less than 10 hours a week in meetings.

How much of that time is well spent? Not much, according to most research. One study found only 11% of meetings were considered productive, and the average worker spends an average of 31 hours per month in unproductive meetings. It’s an incomprehensible amount of wasted time. (Though it’s not totally wasted, since 90% of people admit to daydreaming during long meetings, and 75% say they are doing other work). But all jokes aside, the pain has real consequences for individuals, teams and entire organizations.

Excessive meetings cause real emotional – and financial – damage

Excessive meetings are mentally and physically draining. They cause fatigue, frustration, and anxiety. Nearly half (45%) of employees feel overwhelmed by the number of meetings they attend.

One shocking consequence of too many meetings? It makes people in the workplace measurably more impatient and rude toward one another, according to research from Perceptyx. The more time people spend in meetings, the less polite they are to the people around them. That puts the cost of too many meetings in a new light! The ripple effects and ultimate cost of behavior changes like that is hard to calculate, just like with the cost of low emotional intelligence in general. It tends to spiral.

An estimated $37 billion is lost per year to unproductive meetings, according to Zippia. And that’s just the US. And that’s just the cost of wasting everyone’s time – not the cost of turnover, lost productivity, and other downstream effects of pushing people past the breaking point of stress. And speaking of lost productivity, that may be the biggest hidden cost of the excessive meeting epidemic.

The opportunity cost is hard to calculate

Almost 2 out of 3 employees (65%) say that meetings prevent them from completing their own work, and research has shown a relationship between productivity and meeting frequency: the most productive employees attend fewer meetings and protect their calendars for deep work.

This research study published in Harvard Business Review highlights the potential benefits of reducing meetings. Across 76 companies, they found a 40% reduction in meetings led to a 71% increase in employee productivity and a 52% increase in employee satisfaction. They also found reducing meetings led to more cooperation, trust, and engagement – a reflection of the other finding about meeting overload and impoliteness.

The increases in employee satisfaction and engagement points to a deeper truth about reducing meeting overload: Less meetings means more autonomy. And more autonomy helps them find meaning in their work.

Three steps to meeting sanity:

Here are 3 steps to end the meeting madness, and free up time for deep, meaningful, focused, productive work:

  1. Embrace micro-meetings. The most popular and fastest growing type of meeting is the brief and efficient 15-minute block, per a report in The Wall Street Journal from Microsoft Teams data. Some 60% of meetings are now 15 minutes long. Don’t schedule a 30-minute or 60-minute meeting out of habit!
  2. Schedule breaks between meetings. Recent research from Microsoft’s Work Trends Index confirmed what many know from experience: Back-to-back virtual meetings are stressful. People’s stress measurably spikes as they transition between back-to-backs, and that stress builds over time. But the research also points to a simple remedy—short breaks. That allowed people to reset and reduce stress.
  3. Block off time for deep work. The research is clear: People who attend fewer meetings and block off time for deep work are more productive. Just because we can be in constant communication doesn’t mean we should be.

The emotional benefits of ending excessive meetings is enormous, both individually and collectively. That’s emotional intelligence at work!

OPINION PIECE: Michael Miller, Project Manager, 6seconds.org

Michael Miller linkedin.com