Meetings are unavoidable workplace activities. Sharing information, brainstorming, training, presenting results or decision-making, and problem-solving are just a few reasons for holding meetings. For some, such discussing panels are boring routines that keep people from real work. For others, they are a perfect opportunity to get away from the monitor, passionately discuss the new results, and impress managers with soft skills.
And there’s the thing – meetings can be both productive tools and burdensome time wasters. But whether you like attending meetings or not, there are some facts and statistics that you should be aware of.
The most commonly used statistic says that there are around 11 million business meetings daily in the United States. However, this data is understated according to Lucid Meetings’ study from 2015. New surveys and automated analysis say that the number of meetings is estimated from 36 to 56 million daily.
This entails millions of hours spent by millions of employees participating in various discussions. Research conducted by LiveCareer, an online career platform, sheds some light on that issue.
36% of respondents spend between 4–7 hours each working week, while 32% devote 7–10 hours to meetings. So the majority of workers, 68%, spend 4–10 hours weekly in meetings. Interestingly, there are differences in the time spent on meetings depending on gender. Women bear a heavier meeting burden than men. 35% of female respondents said they spend 7–10 hours in meetings compared to just 27% of men.
However, there’s much more to say about meetings and time. What matters here is not the total number and length of all weekly meetings but the duration of a single session. And the key is attention span.
We all know it’s hard to maintain sustained attention during boring business meetings in which we do not actively participate. So, do you know how long you can count on participants’ full focus? Around 45-60 minutes, as typical meetings, tend to last, or maybe more? Not at all.
The same study shows that meetings’ attention span is even shorter. According to 43% of respondents, it takes only 20–30 minutes to lose focus on what’s happening during a meeting. A more optimistic 30% of survey takers said that people lost attention after 30–40 minutes. Still, this falls short of the length of a typical work meeting.
Summing up, according to 73%, after 20–40 minutes, organizers cannot count on workers’ focus. So the key is not to organize meetings longer than this. Or, if longer meetings are required, split them into manageable chunks with frequent breaks.
And what about more extended discussions? Well, once the meeting last 50 minutes or longer, you lose the attention of 96% of participants.
Once your meeting has been running for an hour, you can rest assured almost nobody is listening.
If meeting attendees don’t listen, it doesn’t mean they’re daydreaming or trying not to fall asleep. There is a whole list of more frequently chosen activities. The most popular choice is reading news online (39%). In a tie for second place are browsing social media and reading a book (each with 38%).
35% of research participants decide to shop online. More than 1 in 3 people (32%) also start a text message conversation with a friend or play an online/mobile game (31%). In turn, 28% do other work-related tasks, while 27% draw or doodle.
And here’s something interesting. Shopping online is the most common choice for women (40% of indications). In turn, men are most likely to read the news (40%).
Meetings are not just about hours of preparation and development of presentations or passive participation. They also involve stress and anxiety. And it doesn’t matter if a person attends an online or in-person session.
More than 8 in 10 respondents (83%) openly say that meetings are stress-inducing. And here, 31% are more frightened of online sessions, while 25% believe in-person meetings are more stressful. For the rest, 28%, there is no difference, as both meeting types involve the same level of anxiety.
And the reasons for that are various and vary depending on the person. Tough subjects to be discussed, missed deadlines, no time to complete much other work-related stuff, or disagreements between staff members lead to a stress-filled environment. There are also personal reasons like fear of public speaking or occasional family issues.
Additionally, online meetings involve the use of conference tools and new technologies. Their unfamiliarity and breakdowns are causes of distress. There is also Zoom fatigue, a syndrome of feeling overly tired, worried, and anxious, resulting in the overuse of virtual communication platforms like Zoom.
3 in 5 research respondents (61%) agree that meetings are helpful. And as people point out, workplace discussions have more than one advantage. When asked about it, every time, more than 70% agreed that meetings:
- make it easier to make decisions,
- are great for networking,
- develop practical solutions,
- are necessary, especially when working remotely,
- establish strong relationships.
Having that in mind, we can’t dismiss meetings as mere showpieces for managers. When handled well, meetings have their value.
The meeting recipe is simple and may be encapsulated by saying “quality over quantity.”
Reducing the frequency and resigning from asking excessive or unnecessary questions, going-off topic, inviting many unneeded participants, or prolonging meetings are the first steps to improving the quality of discussions. Moreover, preparing agenda or plan and developing eye-catching presentations also take the sessions to the next level.
What about the pessimistic attitude of employees towards meetings? Over time, with the improved quality of discussion, the perspective would change to a more positive one.
About the author
Nina Pączka is a career advisor and job search expert at LiveCareer, an online platform offering resources and knowledge to find a perfect job. Her mission is to help jobseekers develop their careers and follow the path to success. Nina’s insights have been published by Forbes, Fast Company, AZ Big Media, and many other outlets.