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Are Too Many Meetings Wreaking Havoc on Your Employees’ Mental Health?

This guest blog post is by Heidi Bitsoli. Photo credit:

Meetings can be fun and worthwhile. They can also be a huge waste of time. We’ve all been to meetings that could have been an email. And they leave us feeling like we spent the last hour doing nothing when we could have been getting actual work done. And when too many of your meetings are like this, it can have a negative effect on employee mental health. 

Why Do We Have Too Many Meetings?

The Harvard Business Review listed six reasons we have too many meetings. They are:

  • Fear of Missing Out. We know that attending a meeting can be a useless exercise. But we go to them anyway because we’re required to and fear missing out on something that might happen during the meeting.
  • Selfish Urgency. Some managers schedule meetings when it’s convenient for them and not necessarily for the other attendees. This tendency requires people to frantically rearrange their schedules, adding to stress.
  • Meetings as Commitment Devices. Meetings are sometimes used not so much to impart needed information as to motivate the attendees to meet deadlines rather than have to report why they have failed to do so.
  • The Mere Urgency Effect. The very fact of having a meeting, no matter how useless and time-wasting, can provide people with a sense of accomplishment. Regularly scheduled meetings can create a kind of inertia that causes them to take place whether they are needed or not.
  • Meeting Amnesia. Some meetings become carbon copies of previous meetings because too many participants have zoned out and therefore forgotten what happened before. This phenomenon is why minutes should be taken and copies distributed to the participants.
  • Pluralistic Ignorance. Many people sit through mind-numbing meetings wondering if anyone else realizes how wasteful of time they are. In fact, more often than not, everybody realizes how useless the meetings are. But they’re usually too afraid of consequences to voice that displeasure. 

Too Many Meetings Can Be Bad for Your Mental Health

Calendar magazine has an article that relates the psychological cost of having too many meetings. They include:

  • Increased Anxiety and Stress. Workplace stress is already a recognized problem that has been known to lead to cardiovascular disease and even addiction (the latter of which can lead to either rehab or death). Too many meetings simply add to that anxiety and stress. Some people are afraid of speaking in public or dealing with authority figures. Others have a fear of not knowing what the meeting is about and being unprepared. Still others are terrified at the prospect of being asked a question and not knowing the answers.
  • Fear of Missing Out. FOMO, or fear of missing out, not only causes too many meetings but results in a phenomenon called the coefficient of inefficiency which means the larger a group is the more inefficient it is. FOMO attracts too many people to a meeting, causing a lack of competence, speed, and secrecy. 
  • Decreased Morale. When people are forced to attend time-wasting meetings, their morale tends to drop. Time taken away from useful work results in job dissatisfaction, lower productivity, lack of employee engagement, and more absenteeism and turnover.
  • Information Overload. Many meetings result in information overload for attendees. If the person running the meeting throws too much information out, people start to get bored and disengaged. They start to tune out and start doing things like checking emails and social media on their phones. The attendees may even suffer a hit to their cognitive performance which will impact their decision-making skills.
  • Too Much Multitasking. Speaking of the tendency of some people to multitask during meetings, that activity has a measurable effect on the part of the brain that controls empathy as well as emotional control and cognitive ability, according to a study conducted by the University of London cited in an article in Forbes. People who multitask have been measured to have a decline in IQ scores similar to people who have stayed up all night or smoked marijuana.

Alternatives to Meetings or Having Better Meetings

If your employees are suffering the mental health effects of meeting fatigue, what are some of the alternatives to having meetings? OneLegal lists some better ways to impart information. They include:

  • Emails. An email thread in which people respond to an initial message can serve the same purpose of a meeting without taking up a lot of time or subjecting employees to the stress of a long meeting. Instant messaging is also a good tool.
  • Video Presentation. Consider creating a visual presentation and putting it on the company’s internal website or SharePoint site. One advantage is that the presentation will be a useful reference to check later. You can add a FAQ sheet for further reference. And employees can even scroll through the presentation on their own, eliminating the need for a meeting.
  • Brainstorming Board. This can either be a physical whiteboard or a digital one. People can communicate their ideas and thoughts without being put on the spot in a meeting.
  • A Group Lunch. Have everyone eat a lunch catered by the company together where they can have informal discussions. These are less time-consuming and less stressful.

If you must conduct a meeting, Atlassian has a few helpful hints about how to do so efficiently. The key points are to have a clear agenda, invite only those participants who have something to contribute, and allow for maximum engagement. That way, the meeting actually has a useful goal and will not be a source of stress and anxiety.

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