Companies losing millions thanks to ‘unnecessary’ meetings

Employees spend a total of 18 hours a week in meetings – most of which are pointless

Companies losing millions thanks to ‘unnecessary’ meetings

Big companies are losing over $100 million thanks to unnecessary meetings, according to a new report released by Otter.ai in partnership with Dr. Steven Rogelberg. The survey found that unnecessary meetings cost employers with over 100 employees more than $2 million every year, with the amount skyrocketing to over $100 million for companies with more than 5,000 staff.

Read more: How to stop endless meetings – and stay connected

The survey, which sought the responses of 632 individuals from various sectors, found that employees are attending an average of 17 meetings per week, which use up a total of 18 hours of their working week. However, the respondents said that only 12 of the meetings they participate in were critical, while five could have been skipped as long as they were kept in the loop with any outcomes. 

However, skipping a meeting appears to be a no-go for many of the respondents, with almost half of employees (47%) saying they’re hesitant to decline an invitation because they don’t want to "upset or offend" the organiser.

According to Rogelberg, this lack of conversation around meeting etiquette and "organisational norms" are the main reasons why employees feel obligated to attend meetings, even ones they believe are unnecessary. This in turn leads to overwork and multitasking, which lowers morale and productivity.

"The expectations and norms around meeting culture in so many companies are highly damaged," Rogelberg said. "When employees are in meetings that they don't need to be in, they often sit there disengaged, or multi-task, which distracts others and can derail the meeting. Not only does this impact the quality of the meeting, but it claims essential employee productivity and time." 

Read more: How to run successful virtual meetings

How to improve your meeting culture

Rogelberg held a TEDx Talk in 2019 where he discussed how to make meetings work for you. In it, he revealed that it’s not just HR leaders that are responsible when it comes to meeting cultures – it’s very much a group effort.

"Who's responsible for meeting improvement? We all are," he said. "Excellent meeting leaders think differently. They recognise that fundamentally, when you call a meeting, you are a steward of others' time and by having that mindset of stewardship, you fundamentally approach the meeting differently.”

Read more: Facebook HR chief's advice on running effective meetings

In his talk, Rogelberg shared five quick tips on how to make meetings work:

  • Go for the smallest number of people possible – no spectators. Consider inviting people for part of the meeting, but not for its entirety. Those not invited should be kept in the loop and still share on pre-meeting output
  • Don't just default to one hour. Go for the shortest time reasonable, considering the goals
  • Be unconventional at times, such as walking meetings, clicker quizzes/polling, and silent brainstorming
  • Start the meeting well and with positivity
  • Evaluate meetings periodically and analytically

Sam Liang, Otter.ai CEO and co-founder, also suggested a re-evaluation of meeting culture, practices, and tools.

"We've seen companies implement employee tracking software and mandate that employees return to in-office work, all with the goal of increasing productivity," Liang said. "While these initiatives are often met with resistance by employees, reducing time spent in unnecessary meetings is a solution that is a win for both employee and employer."

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