It was Monday, October 2017. As I looked at my calendar, I felt a tightening in my chest. It was packed with meetings.
Before every meeting, I braced myself. I felt a desperate need to escape. I would prefer a hundred times to focus on my clients, do my own work, or even meet all my colleagues individually. Can you relate?
For a long time, I thought it was just me who found internal meetings insufferable.I was wrong ‒ and definitely not alone.
A staggering 46 percent of employees would prefer to do almost anything else rather than attend a status meeting ‒ 17 percent of them would prefer to watch paint dry!The cost of poorly organized meetings in 2019 in the US and UK alone was estimated to nearly half a trillion dollars!
While they’re in meetings, salespeople don’t pitch to clients. Software engineers don’t write code. Doctors don’t see patients. We need to make sure our meetings are at least worth the cost of our attendees’ time.
It’s not only the time people spend in meetings that has an opportunity cost. Paul Graham, co-founder of Y Combinator, argued that makers operate in half-day intervals, or what he calls “a maker’s schedule,” which is different from a manager’s schedule.
Suppose you’re a programmer or a writer, and you have only an hour until your next meeting at 10:30 am. In that case, you probably won’t start working on your code or manuscript because it takes an hour to really get started, and you probably won’t get started after the meeting as there isn’t enough time before lunch. In this example, you’re likely to lose half a day’s productivity.
The amount of productivity lost is even worse when meetings are bad. Psychologists have found that the effects of a bad meeting can linger for hours ‒ a phenomenon called “meeting recovery syndrome.” After a lousy meeting, it’s common for people to browse the Internet to recover, go for a coffee, or interrupt a colleague to tell them about the meeting.
Another cost of bad meetings is that they decrease job satisfaction, which can lead to higher attrition in your team. Besides, if you hold bad meetings, your reputation and potentially your career prospects will suffer. People will complain about bad meetings to their peers.
Studies showed that the more meetings we have during our day, the more tired we feel by the end of it. The fatigue is worse when meetings are virtual.
If we have too many ineffective meetings and accomplish less during the day, we may feel obligated to work in the evening. This lack of recharging time can eventually lead to burnout.
How many hours a week do you waste in unproductive meeting time? I invite you to calculate the monetary cost of bad meetings for your team and yourself. You can use the HBR meeting cost calculator to do that.
Let’s take a leadership team of 8 people, with an average compensation of $80K who wastes 2 hours a week in unproductive meetings (a conservative estimate). According to the HBR meeting cost calculator, that is $896 wasted in just a week. In a year with 47 working weeks, the team loses more than $42,000 only by spending two hours a week in ineffective, frustrating meetings. That does not even bear into account the cost on morale, burnout, and employee retention.
There is nothing that causes me more boredom and frustration in my worklife than ineffective meetings. I know that this is the case for many of you.
But eliminating meetings altogether is not the solution; not if we want to have an impact. They are still one of the best tools we have to inspire each other, connect, eliminate confusion and build culture.
We need to move from too many ineffective, miserable meetings to fewer, successful and fulfilling meetings.
The angst I was feeling all those years ago looking at my calendar, was not just boredom or frustration for the time wasted. It was a pain born out of feeling disconnected, even though I talked with people the whole day.
Bad meetings make us feel lonely and powerless. Thankfully, good meetings have the opposite effect; they fill us with a sense of strength and belonging.