Let's face it, there's not much to love about meetings. We can all identify with that sense of nameless dread when yet another meeting gets shoehorned into an already packed calendar. The frustration of not completing tasks because there's always another damn meeting to attend.
Or maybe you're one of those rare souls who loves getting the chance to strut your stuff in front of colleagues and wow management with your perfect presentation skills.
Love them or hate them, we can't avoid them.
Has anyone ever said, "I wish I could go to more meetings today"?
– Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic
Everybody says that everybody hates meetings, and the stats back that up. Here are a few choice examples:
- The average worker spends at least three hours weekly in meetings and wastes four hours preparing for each. 15 hours in total.
- 71% of meetings are considered unproductive.
- Unproductive meetings cost around $37 billion annually and waste 24 billion working hours.
Scary, isn't it? Let's face it, these are solid reasons to hate meetings. They're costly, unproductive, and take precious time.
- Preparing an overdue report? No way.
- Answering dozens of emails? Not now.
- Scheduling tasks for the next quarter? Later.
All of those essential tasks pushed aside to attend yet another time thief of a meeting.
But is it really like that? Are the stereotypes about meetings true, or do we need something to put us straight on this?
At LiveCareer, we don't take anything for granted. We did our research. In a survey of over 1,000 employees, we explored:
- What's wrong with meetings.
- Whether there's anything good about them.
- The differences between online and in-person meetings.
- And more.
Since everyone is here, let's get started. We've got an action-packed agenda to cover.
Meetings and… more meetings
An estimated 11 million meetings are held every working day in the United States. This gives us 55 million meetings each week.
These are online and in-person meetings, engaging employees of various levels, lasting several minutes or hours, and addressing both essential and trivial issues. They can be stressful and chaotic, or if you're lucky, energizing and well-organized.
Meetings come in all shapes and sizes, and here are a few more choice facts before we get started on our findings. According to Otter.ai:
- 70% of employees experienced a 70% increase in meetings when remote work was introduced.
- Weekly meeting time increased by 10%, resulting in three additional weekly meetings per employee.
- The number of meetings attended by a worker on average rose by 13.5%.
And research by Atlassian found that the average employee attends 62 meetings per month and considers half of them to be a waste of time.
Which brings us to our own study. Here are the secrets of meetings revealed.
As expected, the majority of respondents, 49%, attend both online and in-person meetings. And depending on your point of view, there's a lucky or unlucky 26% who attend only or mostly online meetings. Not surprising, considering the pandemic pushed most if not all meetings online. For some companies, this has remained unchanged to this day.
And what about in-person meetings? They're alive and kicking. 25% of survey takers admit the meetings they attend are strictly or mainly in-person.
Diving deeper, we found out that 50% of employees prefer in-person meetings vs. 40% who prefer online meetings, and the remaining 10% express no preference. No surprise, given that face-to-face meetings are an excellent escape from the drudgery of remote work and the pressures of technological fatigue.
Okay. But what about the average time we spend in meetings per week? Is it a never-ending story of back-to-back horror? Here's what our respondents told us:
- Less than 3 hours – 19%
- 4–7 hours – 36%
- 7–10 hours – 32%
- 10–13 hours – 11%
- More than 14 hours – 2%
So the majority of workers, 68%, spend 4–10 hours per week in meetings, which is just about bearable.
Breaking news here. Women were more likely than men to spend 7–10 hours a week in meetings, 35% vs. 27%. Conversely, men were more likely to fall under the 4–7 hours category, 39% vs. 35%.
Is it because women are more talkative and have more to say than men? Or do they just have fun during meetings?
Work experience also matters when analyzing time spent in meetings. Employees with 1–2 years of experience spend less time on meetings. The most popular answer for this age group was 4–7 hours per week, with 43% choosing this option. On the other hand, their senior colleagues with 6–10 years of experience were most likely to choose 7–10 hours a week, 44%.
So climbing the corporate ladder condemns you to more time in meetings, it seems.
According to Muse, middle managers spend 35% of their time in meetings. Upper managers devote meetings 50% of their time.
It's well established that we're spending more time in online meetings. But how about the overall length of meetings?
We also asked respondents if, over the past few months, the length of meetings tended to get longer or shorter. None of the answers they gave significantly outweighed the others, but the majority, 39%, noticed that their meetings were getting longer. In turn, 34% tend to believe that their meetings are shorter. 28% say the length stays the same.
We love to hate long meetings. Why? Attention span is a big part of the answer.
The HR Digest discovered that 95% of meeting participants lose focus and miss parts of the meeting, while 39% doze off at meetings.
People's attention span is relatively short, and our research backs this up. According to our respondents, how long does it take for people to start losing attention in meetings?
- Less than 10 minutes – 9%
- After 20-30 minutes – 43%
- After 30-40 minutes – 30%
- After 40-50 minutes – 14%
- After 1 hour or more – 4%
Nearly half of respondents believe that 20-30 minutes is enough for a person to lose attention and stop listening.
And once you're 50 minutes in, you've lost the attention of a whopping 96% of attendees. So, dear managers, stop organizing long meetings. No one is paying attention!
"The longer the meeting, the less is accomplished."
– Tim Cook
And if people are not paying attention, what else are they doing? Playing games on their iPhone? Sitting tight and stressed? Or just looking through the window and thinking how dumb this meeting is?
What we do in the shadows
More than 7 in 10 respondents (75%) admit that they don't pay attention during meetings. Here's what they do instead:
- 2 in 5 respondents (39%) read the news on the internet. A great way to spend time. We have to do it anyway, so why not do it on the clock?
- Again, almost 2 in 5 people (38%) browse social media. Even better. Kim Kardashian's insta beats Mike from accounting hands down.
- Nearly 2 in 5 employees (38%) read a book. Ambitious.
- More than 1 in 3 (35%) shop online. Have the summer sales already begun?
- 1 in 3 people (32%) also start a text message conversation with a friend. "Barbra, how are you? I'm stuck in a meeting."
- 1 in 3 workers (31%) play an online/mobile game. Standard and cliché here.
- Nearly 1 in 3 (28%) do other work-related tasks. Awesome. That's what meetings are for.
- And again, almost 1 in 3 (27%) draw or doodle. There is always time for creativity.
What is the most common choice for women? Online shopping, of course. 40% of women choose this activity most often as entertainment during a meeting. Men, on the other hand, are most likely to read the news, 40%.
Muse's study suggests that 92% of employees multitask unintentionally during meetings. 41% openly confess that they often multitask or all the time during a meeting. 49% admit that they also do staff unrelated work rather than paying attention to the meeting. On the other hand, Atlassian says that 73% of employees do other work while in meetings.
Is this such a bad thing? If a meeting doesn't directly involve us but just requires our presence, isn't it an excellent opportunity to improve our multitasking?
It saves time, increases productivity, and stimulates our brain. Multitasking creates greater demand for cognitive resources, such as attention and working memory. Some may disagree, citing the disadvantages of multitasking, but it's better than daydreaming or shopping for a new outfit.
Speaking about dreaming… Do you know what else people do during meetings? They're sleeping! According to Zippia.com research, 39% of surveyed employees said they slept during a work meeting.
I hope at least they don't snore. But let's move on from the restful thought of catching some z's to a more negative question.
Do meetings equal stress?
Meeting. Stress. Next meeting. More stress. Another meeting. Even more stress.
Whether you attend online or in-person meetings, they both cause anxiety and stress. This is due to many factors such as lack of preparation, fear of public speaking, or increased brain activity for a long time.
Stress during meetings is also no stranger to our respondents. Let's start from the end.
Only 16% believe in-person and online meetings don't involve stress. Lucky you! Unfortunately, the rest, 83%, take the opposite view.
25% say in-person meetings are more stressful than online, while 31% are more terrified at the thought of online sessions. 28% think that both events are equally stressful.
In fact, as some studies prove, online meetings can be more stressful. It's all about technology.
According to Barco, a company specializing in digital projection and imaging technology, 9 in 10 employees experience elevated stress levels when dealing with troublesome technology during meetings. They point out that "people's heart rates reached 179bpm when struggling with technology during a meeting, compared to resting heart rates of around 60-100 bpm."
That's not all. Ever heard of Zoom fatigue? In short, the term describes tiredness and anxiety associated with overusing virtual communication platforms.
Our survey also showed that stress levels are the same regardless of gender. What's more, working experience doesn't matter either. Employees with 11+ experience stress similar to those new to the job market.
Interestingly, the industry you work in does impact stress levels during different types of meetings.
- Online meetings are the most stressful for those working in manufacturing (34%), while in-person meetings are the least stressful for them (21%).
- Software/IT and business and finance employees, 31%, believe that online sessions are more stressful, while 26% indicate direct meetings as more nerve-wracking.
- Moreover, 20% of software/IT employees don't find meetings stressful at all, while only 12% of manufacturing workers say the same.
So what is the way out of the situation? Abandon participation in meetings? After all, they're just showpieces for upper management, right? Well, no.
3 in 5 respondents (61%) think that meetings are useful. The rest, 39%, agree with the idea that meetings are just showpieces for managers.
Surprising, right? Since we all hate meetings, the second scenario should gather more votes.
Speaking of scenarios…
Annoying meeting scenarios
Coughing, wheezing, fidgeting or lack of preparation, low concentration, stuttering? What annoys you during meetings?
Using a scale of 1-5, our respondents were asked to rate how frustrating a particular scenario is. We considered frustrating (4) and really frustrating (5) activities and prepared a ranking. Let's take a look.
- The winner of the most annoying meeting scenario is meetings that begin later than planned – 70%.
- The runner-up here is a lack of a clear agenda or meeting plan – 69%.
- In third place, we have people asking excessive or unnecessary questions during meetings – 66%.
- 66% of respondents are annoyed if the meeting is scheduled too early in the day.
- Discussing topics that don't apply to everyone frustrates 65%.
- 64% cannot stand going off-topic into areas unrelated to the meeting.
- For 63% of respondents, meetings scheduled too late in the day are also annoying.
- 62% despise meetings that end later than their scheduled finishing time.
- The ranking closes with boring slide decks – 61%.
Are you a meeting organizer? Beware of delays and always be prepared. Are you a frequent attendee of meetings? Don't ask excessive or unnecessary questions.
I know you're all busy people, so let's not prolong. Before we go to the next point on the agenda, a quick general summary is needed here.
Love or hatred?
Love or hatred? Hard to tell. As we can see on the infographics, meetings have both bright and dark sides.
People value meetings because:
- Meetings make it easier to make decisions – 74%. True. A good brainstorming, consultation, or the opinion of others facilitates the decision-making process and sometimes leads to the development of new, more exciting solutions.
- They simply like attending frequent meetings – 74%. Good for them (and their managers).
- Thanks to meetings, time at work passes more quickly – 71%. A great reason to like meetings.
- Meetings are great for networking – 71%. Again, true. By attending meetings, you meet new people and tighten bonds with co-workers. This is especially beneficial to our mental health when working remotely.
- Meetings develop practical solutions that meet the needs of everyone present – 71%. Effective meetings are a powerful tool for coming up with innovations and changes.
However, they also despise them because they:
- Attend too many meetings – 69%. Unfortunately, a significant number of employees complain about the number of sessions. The case is especially true for upper management.
- Have to work longer because meetings take too much time – 61%. Everyone wants to finish their work as soon as possible. Staying after hours to catch up on things is no fun.
- Meetings drain energy and demotivate – 59%. Many studies have proved this. More meanings mean less productivity.
- Meetings, in general, are useless – 57%. If you attend meetings that don't concern you and don't actively participate, just daydreaming, then yes, meetings are useless.
- Meetings kill creativity – 56%. That's the case of bad meetings with no agenda, structure, or plan.
- Meetings distract and destroy workflow – 56%. Cannot argue with that.
- Meetings are stressful – 52%. Yes, they can be. No matter if they are held online or in-person.
It is impossible to say definitively whether everyone hates meetings. Many employees complain about too many meetings, wasted time, or the distraction from other responsibilities. On the other hand, strong feedback underlining meetings' advantages such as facilitating decision-making and networking is visible.
So the conclusion here is that meetings can be either good or bad. It's up to us to look at the positives and try to make them as constructive as possible.
Next, let's narrow down our discussion. Let's look at online meetings in more detail.
First, we asked our respondents how long their online meetings usually last. The results here are very similar to those obtained by asking the same question in the section concerning meetings in general.
- 8% of respondents spend no more than 15 minutes in single online meetings.
- More than 1 in 3 employees (34%) devote 20–30 minutes per meeting.
- 30–45 minutes proved the most popular choice, with 38% choosing this option.
- 16% said their online meetings last between 45 minutes and an hour.
- And an unfortunate 3% spend more than 60 minutes per online meeting.
It doesn't look too bad. But even 15-minute meetings can be time-consuming if you multiply that time by the number of meetings you attend throughout the week. For example, four 15-minute sessions every day adds up to 5 hours a week.
Once we have discovered how much time a single meeting takes, let's verify how much time they cost us over the entire week.
- 17% enjoy spending no more than 3 hours on weekly meetings.
- The majority of respondents, 36%, spend 4–7 hours on online meetings a week.
- Slightly less, 34%, sacrifice 7–10 hours per week.
- 11% need to brace themselves for 10–13 hours.
- Only 2% devote more than 14 hours.
Again, these results are very similar to what we discovered when asking the same questions in the general meetings section.
Another element of online meetings relates to the preferences of each participant. During in-person meetings, all participants maintain regular eye contact. It goes without saying. The situation becomes more complicated in online events, where turning the camera on or off decides if we see the speakers. We were curious whether people like to have their cameras on or prefer not to be seen.
The majority, 46% of online meeting participants, prefer to have their cameras on. Nothing surprising. The conversation is much more effective (and enjoyable) if we can see the people we are talking to.
However, 29% prefer to stay invisible. Instead of paying attention to the meeting, are they playing games, reading the news, or shopping online?
Let's supplement this data by saying that 25% have no preferences regarding the cameras turned on or off.
We also asked respondents to address some general questions about online meetings in the survey. And:
- 70% believe that online meetings are an excellent opportunity to see and talk with people when working remotely.
- 70% agree that online meetings save time.
- 69% admit that frequent meetings are necessary when working remotely
Last but not least, let's clarify productivity issues.
According to 57% of respondents, online meetings make them more productive. 26% believe that online meetings negatively contribute to their productivity. 17% think that online sessions don't affect their productivity.
Could it be time to dispel the belief that all meetings kill productivity?
And for our last item on the agenda, let's talk some more about meetings – in-person meetings this time.
Someone once said that "meetings are the practical alternative to work."
And this also applies to in-person meetings, in which employees spend a comparable amount of time to online discussions.
- 9% spend less than 15 minutes.
- Likewise, with online meetings, the majority, 36%, take between 20–30 minutes for every in-person meeting.
- Slightly less, 34%, devote 30–45 minutes per meeting.
- 17% have to content with 45–60-minute meetings.
- And 4% spend more than 60 minutes per in-person meeting.
But of course, the length of single meetings tells us nothing until we look at how much time we spend on discussions over the course of a week.
- Less than 3 hours a week are spent on meetings by 17%.
- For 37% of respondents, 4–7 hours of meetings is routine.
- 32% of respondents have to survive 7–10 hours in weekly meetings.
- 12% devote 10–13 hours per week to meetings.
- And an unhappy 2% of respondents spend more than 14 hours on meetings.
This time, we also presented respondents with several statements about in-person meetings. According to our helpful participants, in-person meetings:
- establish strong relationships – 73%
- are a great opportunity to see and talk with people – 71%
- are more costly and time-consuming than online meetings – 68%
- are richer in information than online meetings – 68%
And what is the relationship between productivity and in-person meetings?
According to 59% of respondents, in-person meetings make them more productive. Only 25% believe that in-person meetings negatively contribute to their productivity. 16% think that in-person meetings don't affect their productivity.
A little conclusion here. Online meetings are not significantly different at all from in-person meetings. According to our respondents, they score very similarly. So maybe because of this little diversity, people are a little less fed up with meetings?
"To make our meetings more effective, we need to have multiple types of meetings and clearly distinguish between the various purposes, formats, and timing of those meetings."
– Patrick Lencioni, business book writer
We cannot deny that meetings are integral to many jobs. But are they necessary? Do we need to hold so many? The answer here is both yes and no. Yes, meetings are necessary. No, we don't need to attend so many.
Too many meetings are something we may not have to deal with soon.
Studies showed that employee productivity increased by over 70% when meetings were reduced by 40%. And when this number was doubled, and meetings were decreased by 80%, productivity reached 74%, stress dropped by 60%, and feeling micromanaged reduced by 75%.
Do we face a future with as few meetings as possible? Perhaps. But it's incredibly unlikely we'll face a scenario where we don't attend any meetings. The best case scenario is that we finally begin to prioritize meeting quality over quantity.
Now let's summarize our findings.
- People attend online and in-person meetings and devote a similar amount of time each week to both.
- 75% of people admit to not paying attention in meetings. To pass the time, the most popular choice for men is reading news (40%), while women prefer online shopping (40%).
- Despite popular belief, meetings are not just showpieces for managers. Respondents believe they contribute positively to their work life (61%).
- Meetings that begin later (70%), lack a clear agenda or meeting plan (69%), people asking excessive or unnecessary questions during meetings (66%), and meetings that are scheduled too early in the day (66%) are the top four meeting pet peeves.
- 46% prefer to have their camera on during online meetings.
- 57% of respondents say that online meetings make them more productive. Similarly, also 59% say that in-person meetings make them more productive.
This study shows that meetings can be a real pain. However, this is often due to our lousy attitude to meetings and poor management (delays, lack of plan or schedule, too frequent organization).
So maybe the remedy for meetings is to improve their quality and change our mindsets? And, of course, adding some drama.
"Meetings are boring because they lack drama. Or conflict. This is a shame because most meetings have plenty of potential for drama, which is essential for keeping human beings engaged. Unfortunately, rather than mining for that golden conflict, most leaders of meetings seem to be focused on avoiding tension and ending their meetings on time."
– Patrick Lencioni, business book writer
We surveyed 1033 unique respondents via a bespoke online polling tool. All respondents included in the study passed an attention-check question. The study was created through several research steps, crowdsourcing, and surveying.
The data we are presenting relies on self-reports from respondents. Each person who took our survey read and responded to each question without any research administration or interference. There are many potential issues with self-reported data like selective memory, telescoping, attribution, or exaggeration.
Some questions and responses have been rephrased or condensed for clarity and ease of understanding for readers. In some cases, the percentages presented may not add up to 100 percent; depending on the case, this can be due to rounding, or due to being part of a larger statistic, or due to responses of "neither/uncertain/unknown" not being presented.
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