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October 3, 2022

The 'enormous cost' of unnecessary meetings, in 4 charts

Daily Briefing

    A recent study that researched ways companies can save time and money on meeting strategy, culture, and tools found that almost half of employees say they have too many unnecessary meetings in their schedule, resulting in a potential "wasted" annual investment of more than $25,000 per employee.

    How employees feel about unnecessary meetings

    For the study, Otter.ai, whose software helps companies record meetings, partnered with Steven Rogelberg, a professor of organizational science and management at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

    The survey, which was conducted this summer by Rogelberg, asked 632 U.S. employees from 20 industries to assess their weekly calendars and determine the average amount of time they spend in meetings, how they benefited from them, and their response to meeting invites. 

    Employees reported having an average of 18 hours in meetings each week. As an employee's management level and number of direct reports increases, meeting frequency and time spent in meetings also increases.

    On average, non-managers spend 13.7 hours in meetings each week. Managers with at least four direct reports spend an average of 22.2 hours in meetings. Notably, 46% of employees said they have too many unnecessary meetings on their calendar, and 53% said they feel obligated to attend the meetings on their calendar—even if their attendance is not critical to the meeting agenda.

    Employees accept around 83% of the meeting invitations they receive. While employees report wanting to decline 31% of meeting invitations, they only decline 14% of them.

    Employees said that only 11.8 meetings—a total of 11.9 hours—were critical to attend per week. However, managers with at least four direct reports claimed that 13.9 meetings—a total of 14.4 hours each week—were critical to attend. Notably, employees and managers said some of their meetings could have been skipped if they were kept in the loop.

    When asked about the percentage of meetings employees felt comfortable skipping as long as they were kept in the loop, employees said the most common types of meetings they could skip were those led by a leader from a different department or team (41%).

    "Meetings do control us, and bad meetings have an enormous cost," said Rogelberg, who's been researching meetings for two decades. "You get a meeting invite and say, 'I don't need to be there,' yet you say yes—why?"

    According to the study, many employees accept meetings to avoid offending the meeting organizer (47%), or have colleagues think they are not engaged in their work (45%). Other employees attend meetings because they are hesitant to ask coworkers for updates they may have missed during a meeting (39%).

    "Personally, there are days and weeks when my meetings are running me," said Betsy Peters, VP of marketing and product strategy at Riva, a company that provides revenue-data software for the financial services industry.

    The benefits of reducing unnecessary meetings

    To estimate the cost of unnecessary meetings, Rogelberg calculated an hourly pay rate based on employees' self-reported salary and hours worked each week. 

    On average, companies invest more than $80,000 in meetings per employee, every year. Notably, this investment rises significantly for managers with at least four direct reports. Based on the number of meetings employees said they feel comfortable skipping each week, companies are incurring a potential "wasted" annual investment of more than $25,000 per employee.

    In addition to cost savings, 86% of employees said they felt they worked more effectively when they had longer, uninterrupted periods of time. Most employees also reported that their productivity (84%), job satisfaction (70%), and engagement (66%) would improve with fewer unnecessary meetings. (Boyle, BNN Bloomberg, 9/26; Otter.ai report, accessed 9/30)

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