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How employees experience meetings

Good meetings are productive and useful. They stimulate critical thinking, creativity to solve problems and can be motivating. Yet most employees describe meetings as inefficient and a waste of time. And that’s a problem for the organization, because a person’s negative experiences with meetings can affect job performance. Many companies and organizations invest a lot of money and time in meetings, but the return for the organization is therefore disappointingly small.

A few figures about meeting in the Netherlands

In the Netherlands, the number of meeting hours per week mainly depends on the position of someone within a company. The higher you are on the hierarchical ladder, the more you meet. Senior managers and board members meet on average between 8.5 and 9.5 hours per week. People with mainly an executive task come to about four hours a week. For the self-employed this is six hours.

What a meeting in the Netherlands costs

Assuming an average hourly wage of 80 euros, it can be calculated that meetings cost between 14 and 30 billion euros annually. It is therefore important to achieve the highest possible return on the meetings at the lowest possible price. This means inviting fewer people if you can, and keeping meetings as short as possible. This may seem logical, but in practice it turns out that many meeting participants feel they are wasting their time.

Meeting research: a relatively new scientific discipline

The low appreciation of meetings by employees and the low return for employers have prompted scientific research in this area. Until the mid-1980s, research was mainly anecdotal, but has since grown into a genuine scientific discipline within management studies.

Research methods

Most surveys are conducted in English-speaking areas, particularly the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia, and across a wide range of occupational groups. Researchers make extensive use of questionnaires, but also rely on information provided by governments and statistical calculations to estimate the number of meeting hours per employee and manager. These methods are becoming more sophisticated as scientists gain better insights into the sense and nonsense of meetings.

The balance of scientific research into meetings

An analysis, conducted in 2018, of nearly 200 previously published US, UK and Australian scientific studies found that the quality of most meetings is substandard. This is in line with the negative experiences of most employees, and applies to every professional group studied and to every level within an organization. The analysis also clearly revealed factors why meetings are often ineffective. Based on this, the researchers formulated ten recommendations to improve the quality and efficiency of meetings, divided into three categories: the preparation, the meeting itself, and afterwards.

Recommendations for Better Meetings

Preparation of the meeting
Determine the current needs of the organization. Do not hold meetings to discuss topics that are not urgent or routine matters. Meetings are for problems that need to be solved quickly, for topics that need to be discussed extensively, or about which an important decision has to be made.
Make an agenda and send it around. An agenda makes it possible for everyone to know what the priorities of the upcoming meeting are. This allows participants to prepare well.
Invite the right people. Invite only those who have the knowledge, experience, or skill to contribute efficiently to achieving the purpose of the meeting. People who are not directly involved in the subject or lack expertise will quickly feel that they are wasting their time.

During the meeting

Concentrate on the purpose of the meeting. Meeting leaders must ensure that the agenda is followed and that the purpose of the meeting is being worked towards. They correct behavior of participants, who start discussing other matters, and they steer the meeting in the right direction again.
Humour. Laughter helps to relax people and stimulates positive behaviour, for example involvement and problem solving.
Involve everyone in the discussion. Involvement helps everyone to understand the nature of a problem, and to formulate goals. It is also good to ask for feedback and criticism in order to achieve a better discussion.
Stop complaining immediately. Complaining participants cause negative feelings in the other participants, such as uselessness.



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