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There are many costs to meetings. There are the financial ones, we estimate that with a company that have 10 hours of meetings per week with 4 staff, that is costing them just over £25k per year. That’s a lot of money, it could be a salary, not for the CEO, but an extra person to be doing some of the work.

When you invite people to a meeting, there is already someone paying that salary. But there is all of the work that person isn’t getting done while they are in your meeting. Chances are when someone is attending a meeting they are very conscious of the stuff that they could or should be doing right now that isn’t happening. If the meeting isn’t central to that person’s work, chances are that attending loads of meetings while not having the time to action things from the meetings is a source of stress and worry for people. It certainly is for many of the clients I work with, both senior people who often feel they are asked to attend meetings because people feel they should invite them, and more junior people who are often wondering why they are there.

With so many people reporting that their days are full of meetings, that they are doing the ‘work’ in the evening and at the weekend, or simply spending those times worrying that they are behind, it feels like something has to change.

What would changing it look like? t would look like more free space in the calendar, more opportunity to focus on getting the work done, and less stress. All of that leads to better decision making, better communication and let’s face it, better work, and better quality time to switch off.

How do we get there then?
We can look to have fewer meetings. I know that’s easy for me to say, but seriously, take a look through your diary. If you could only attend 1 meeting per week, which would it be? Looking at it that way might make you feel more able to cancel a few, or invite people to go on without you.

Another option is to make a guest appearance. You can explain that you have a deadline, or other commitments and offer to come along for just the bit of the agenda that is of real interest to you.

That stuff all helps and adds up to saving a few hours over the week which is a great start.

The game-changer
The game-changer however, has got to be creating an environment where people can decline attending meetings without any loss of reputation or integrity. Imagine working in an environment where people inviting someone to a meeting have to justify, why they need that person to attend.

In reality, what happens when someone is setting up a meeting, is that they invite a few people, then head to their contacts list and ask themselves ‘who else might want to come, who else has a vague interest in this?’ Then a whole load of other people would be asked to attend.

But what if, the person sending the invites had to pay for the time of the people attending? What if, they had to include in their invite a sentence or perhaps 2 as to why that person specifically should attend?

What if the person receiving the invite felt comfortable saying something along the lines of ‘thanks for inviting me. I’m a bit snowed under at the moment, I’m sure you’ll all do a great job without me. If you need me specifically for something please let me know before the meeting and we can have a quick call so I can update you. Hope the meeting goes well.’

Changing the culture is about changing habits and behaviours. If you have to justify and persuade people to attend and become ok to say no, meetings can become rarer, they can become more useful and more productive. Be brave start today.

    Hayley Watts is a Productivity Ninja at Think Productive, and co-author with Graham Allcott, of How To Fix Meetings ~(Icon books, May 2021)

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