In what may be a surprise to few, new research shows that about one-third of meetings stacked on the calendar may be a waste of time. A Monday report from transcription company Otter.ai shows that extraneous meetings are also a million-dollar money drain.
Forty-six percent of survey-takers agreed there were too many unnecessary meetings on their calendars. Breaking it down further, employees surveyed said they spend about 18 hours in meetings, with about 11 of those hours belonging to crucial meetings. About five meetings could easily be skipped, respondents said, so long as “they were kept in the loop.”
Can extra meetings really waste millions of dollars?
Per Otter’s count, professionals spend a third of their working hours in meetings.
Additionally, payroll shells out an average of $80,000 per professional employee, compensating them in part to attend meetings. If one-third of those meetings are unnecessary, that comes out to about $25,000 annually wasted per employee, according to Otter.
Researchers estimated that companies with 100 employees could be wasting up to $2.5 million a year, while organizations with 500 employees could be wasting up to $12.2 million and companies in the 5,000-employee range could be losing up to $123 million.
Where, why and how does this keep happening?
The short answer is guilt. More than half of respondents (53%) said they feel like they “need” to attend meetings they’re invited to, even when they’re not critical to the agenda, with lower-level employees more likely to say this than senior-level executives. By Otter’s count, most people (83%) automatically accept the calendar invites that wind up in their inbox.
Even though workers want to decline a third of meetings on their agenda, they only ever decline half of those, Otter found.
Poor communication plays an important role, too. An overwhelming majority of respondents said their manager has never even talked about declining meetings. Organizational norms and lack of dialogue regarding which meetings an employee can skip fuels a cycle of unnecessary meeting attendance.
What can HR do?
If employees feel too guilty to decline meetings — even the unnecessary ones — then C-suite execs and human resources managers can take charge by setting a new tone, Otter suggested.
Since the onset of the pandemic and the rise of video calls, HR experts have recommended greater discernment about which conversations can actually be bumped to email or some other written form of communication. The goal is to eliminate what is commonly known as “Zoom fatigue,” or social burnout due to a high number of video calls in this hybrid world.
Planning for a potential recession, with an accompanying demand to eliminate extra costs, could be a fresh opportunity for business leaders to address extraneous meetings. Now more than ever, companies need to “re-evaluate meeting culture, practices, and tools,” Otter.ai CEO and co-founder Sam Liang said in a press release.
Step one: Address the workplace guilt around hitting the “decline” button. In the press release, organizational psychologist Steven Rogelberg, a meeting expert and a professor at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, added that the expectations and norms around meeting culture are “highly damaged” in many companies. “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,” he said.
Most Otter survey-takers owned up to multitasking during meetings. “Not only does this impact the quality of the meeting, but it claims essential employee productivity and time," he said.
Step two: Create viable alternatives for disseminating information. Multiple insights from the Otter study pointed to the same truth: If employees knew that they could obtain written notes or be brought up to speed in some way, they would feel comfortable declining the unnecessary meetings on their docket.
In one instance, survey-takers specifically said they would feel “relieved,” “satisfied,” “supported,” “valued” and “grateful” if they were offered this accommodation.
This also provides an alternative to other methods of strong-arming workers into productivity, such as remote monitoring and return-to-work mandates, 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.”
Update: The link to Otter’s report has been updated to be accessible to all.