How to reduce meeting fatigue (and the hidden cost of meetings) with Vanessa Bennett from Next Evolution Performance

“Too many meetings” is one of the systemic reasons for people experiencing fatigue and burnout.

If you believe the latest statistics flying around about meeting fatigue, apparently people now spend 50% more time in meetings. Yikes – no wonder there is so much merchandise sporting the phrase – I survived another meeting that could have been an email……

When we run workshops for senior leaders and teams about how to reduce their culture of meetings, we ask participants how much time is spent each day in internal meetings. Frighteningly the average seems to be about 6 hours – that’s average – many people are spending many more hours than that. Add in some overseas offices and therefore multiple time zones, and that’s…… well….. a lot of hours in meetings.

Too much time in meetings means that people are also unable to optimise their 4 hours a day of heavy cognitive energy. This means that they are taking around 6 hours of time to do the work that could have been done in 4 hours if they didn’t have meetings during their heavy cognitive time.

Not only does it take longer for people to do their work after meeting hours, but it takes way more energy credits – hence “too many meetings” is one of the systemic causes of burnout.

Imagine everyone in your company having an extra 2 hours a day of effective time per day and way more energy credits

What a gift to give to those people, not to mention your bottom line.

People have so many meeting invitations that they often find themselves triple booked and therefore paralysed about which one to go to. So they don’t turn up to any of them – or they make a last minute decision about which one to go to.

Now if you are genuinely relying on that person’s input before you can continue with your work, and they don’t show up, that then puts unnecessary stress on the person waiting for input.

And when people are in so many meetings, they try to multi-task which also drains energy credits.

We are seeing so many meetings are now getting cancelled at short notice, that people don’t trust that meetings will actually happen and therefore more people are unlikely to show up.

The frightening cost of meetings

Now anyone who knows me knows that I’m all about Return on Investment. I am very keen to spend money when I can justify a return on investment in terms of additional money and/or energy (obviously as energy is our currency).

So let’s think about the cost for a second…

Take everyone in a meeting and then add up their average hourly rate based on their rough annual remunerations. One hour meetings of 8 to 10 people can cost companies anything from hundreds of dollars into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Then add up how many meetings are taking place across a company at any one time.

It baffles me how many people have trouble getting certain expenses of a few thousand dollars signed off, and yet no one has done the maths on how much every meeting is an organisation is costing the business.

What can we do about all these meetings?

Now it feels like the obvious answer is to spend less time in meetings. And that is definitely the aim. But clearly that’s easier said than done, and mostly because there are many psychological and cultural reasons why people have so many meetings.

So your company needs to get clear about recognising why you have some many meetings in the first place. Then it needs to define your meeting culture as part of your high performance culture.

There are many cultural reasons why there are too many meetings – too many to get specific to your company here. But here are a few that we often see……

If people don’t have the psychological safety to push back on meetings, or to question why the meeting is being held, or to come up with better ways of achieving outcomes without meetings, your meetings will be (and probably already are) one your biggest expenses.

Further if you don’t have a culture set up around accountability, you’ll probably need more meetings to make sure people are on track. Therefore they have less chance of actually delivering those outcomes because…. Well….they are in so many meetings  – that’s a curly little accountability conundrum isn’t it?

Collaboration also appears to have gone too far in most companies. More time doing the work and less time pontificating about it please.

How to reduce your volume of meetings

Once you’ve understood the reasons why you have so many meetings, then you can start to go about reducing the number of meetings.

So again, these are very general and your company will probably have more specific issues which need to be identified, but here are a few to get you thinking…

Lead by example

Chances are you’ll need to start by ensuring the senior leaders are putting this into practice. If senior leaders don’t have at least 3-4 hours of what we at NEP call “scheduled unscheduled time”, you can’t expect others to reduce their meeting attendance.

Scheduled unscheduled time is a way for people to think creatively and strategically and do their deep work, which then leads to being able to think of better ways of getting outcomes without attending meetings.

So less meetings leads to less meetings, while the opposite is unfortunately also true.

Improve your culture of psychological safety

So just to be clear, a culture where everyone agrees and wants to help each other, and wants to turn up to a meeting just because someone invites them to a meeting, is not a psychologically safe environment.

In fact it’s quite the opposite, and a recipe for disaster. So people need to feel safe to push back and question if there is a better way to get the outcomes without needing a meeting.

Improve accountability

When people don’t deliver on their promised timelines, it’s hard for other people to trust them to get this done. This then leads to more check-ins with people to see how they are going and you guessed it…more meetings!

So when accountability frameworks are implemented correctly people deliver and less time is required for meetings.

Once the above frameworks have been applied, then we apply NEP’s “6Ps” of fewer, and more effective meetings. At a very high level these are:

  • Purpose
  • Position on the calendar
  • Procedures
  • People
  • Present
  • Pre-post meeting work

Again the devil is in the detail of all of these, which we discuss in greater detail with our clients.

We can’t stress enough that the amount of time spent in internal meetings is generally way too high, and it’s playing a significant role in the incidence of burnout.

This is an issue that leaders need to treat with the respect that it deserves.

If you are interested in exploring the systemic reasons for your current meeting culture, then ways to change your meeting culture so that you reduce meetings and make the remaining ones far more effective, why not book a Call with Vanessa today.