The Problem & The Question
Meetings kill people. Or people would rather die than sit in another meeting. Is there anything worse in organizational life than wasting time in another b.s. meeting?
Some social scientists took on this very question in a study that can be found here. More than anything, they wanted to capture the effect, if any, on employee job attitudes and well-being (JAWB) of wasting away in meetings.
Theory & Practice
One of the core arguments of the research team was that meetings amount to an interruption in goal-driven work activity. Put differently, a meeting can derail and detract us for the projects and work that we need to do. But there’s more to it and other variables should be considered.
Some of our goals are what academics call task interdependent. This fancy term means that some of our work goals require the help of other individuals and teams. Meetings can help in these highly interdependent jobs. But if you can do a task all by yourself and need nobody, why waste time going to coordinate in a meeting?
Then, there’s the quality of the meeting itself. If you’re subscribing to The Kimono, you’ve seen meetings across the continuum. On the positive side, well-run meetings transfer tons of information, provide direction, and build alignment. In short, meetings add value. Kinda like sightings of the Lochness Monster, those occurrences are rare. On the other side of the spectrum are the soul crushing and value wasting activities known as meetings. As such, the authors rightfully assume that our job attitudes and well-being (JAWB, again) will be positive if we view time spent in meetings as positive to us and to our work.
People’s personalities and own dispositions may also be at play. These social scientists contend that individuals that are high on task orientation or “accomplishment striving” may be predisposed to detest meetings because they’re all about getting the work done. In a way, their identity is tied to completing work tasks and anything that gets in the way of that is the enemy. Hence, meetings are public enemy number one for super task-oriented people.
The Samples and Measures
The professors scientifically surveyed 676 full-time employees who worked at least 35 hours a week. These full-time employees answered survey questions on time spent in meetings, experiences in meetings, work characteristics, JAWB, and personal characteristics.
From the above logic, they also captured employee perceptions of task interdependence, meeting effectiveness, and accomplishment striving (“I set personal goals to get a lot of work accomplished” and “It is very important to me that I complete a lot of work”).
And, don’t forget JAWB. To measure job attitudes and well-being (JAWB), those surveyed were asked to complete several scales that touched on perceptions of their own anxiety, comfort, depression, enthusiasm, and job satisfaction.
We Now Open the Kimono!
Well, the findings confirm something that we already know. On average, of the almost 700 surveyed, most attended more than four pre-scheduled meetings a week and spend almost six hours of their week directly in these pre-scheduled meetings.
Let’s not stop here. They found hard and fast evidence that time spent in meetings wasn’t all bad. For those in highly interdependent jobs, the more time spent in meetings corresponded to better job attitudes and well-being.
The same didn’t ring true, though, for accomplishment strivers or high task individuals. As meeting time went up, their JAWB dropped. Apparently, these types do view meetings as interruptions and obstacles to get work done.
Perhaps, the most important piece of intel as we cross the finish line is the primacy of meeting effectiveness. Well run meetings with tight agendas, accountability, and focus carried the day. There was a strong and positive relationship between perceived meeting effectiveness and JAWB. Take for example, this statistic from their study—perceived meeting effectiveness accounted for 27% of the variance of reported job-related enthusiasm.
We help uncover the truth here at The Open Kimono with strong science. And we just dispelled some urban legend. We don’t really hate time spent in meetings—especially those of us with highly interdependent and complex jobs to do. What we do hate, though, is poorly run meetings. To improve our own job attitudes and well-being, we should all strive to build better meetings.
Don’t forget to share your own personal experiences of poorly run or disastrous meetings for our Friday edition of The Kimono. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org.