Why meetings are bad for you — and your business

While meetings may be necessary, there's a growing awareness in the corporate world that we can’t let them go on aimlessly. Bottom line? They're bad for business.

Companies are starting to rein in pointless meetings because they hurt the bottom line

Cutting back on useless meetings

8 years ago
Duration 2:19
Companies starting to rein in pointless meetings because they hurt the bottom line

Everybody hates useless work meetings. We often endure them by doodling, penning grocery lists or daydreaming while gazing out the window as someone at the front of the room drones on and on.

But changes could be coming to your workplace. While meetings may be necessary, there's a growing awareness in the corporate world that we can't let them go on aimlessly.

Bottom line? They're bad for business.

"If people are not spending effective time in meetings, then that money is going down the drain," says Michael Goldman, a collaboration specialist who helps companies run better meetings.

He says his business has spiked by 30 per cent since 2010, buoyed by a growing number of companies desperate to run more effective gatherings.

"They just know they're in bad meetings and wasting valuable time," says Goldman, who runs Facilitation First, a Toronto-based company.

We've got to stop meeting like this

A recent U.S. study that looked at the time budgets of 17 large corporations concluded that 15 per cent of an organization's collective time is spent in meetings.

The study by Bain & Company, a global management consulting firm, also found that senior executives on average devote the equivalent of more than two days each week to meetings.

That's a lot of wasted company time if the get-togethers are ineffective.

While it's hard to gauge the productivity of meetings, Bain did find that many participants weren't paying full attention while in them. At one company, about one in five employees sent an average of three or more emails for every half hour of meeting time.

Perhaps it's not the workers' fault they were distracted. The study also discovered that meetings were often scheduled "just because."

Losing control

'I get people saying no to my meetings and I think I'm a pretty important guy with the company,"- Ryan Holmes, CEO,Hootsuite

When CBC News asked random workers in a Toronto food court to recall a work meeting that was a waste of time, most didn't have to reach too far back for an example.

"It was a meeting last week where the organizer was not prepared, bounced from deck to deck, presentation wasn't set out in advance … just seemed to go everywhere," said Brian Clare, a project manager for a large financial institution based in Toronto.

He estimates that single aimless meeting cost his company about $1,000 in wasted productivity.

"Over the years, I've been in a number of meetings that are non-productive and that's usually when people don't stay focused on the topic," says management consultant Nancy Icely.

Lack of focus is a guaranteed way to sabotage any work gathering, says David King with global recruiting firm Robert Half Management Resources.

"Primarily, people are not really following the agenda. So if there is an agenda set, they are getting off topic pretty quickly. And the other culprit is that there was never an agenda in the first place."

Just say 'No'

(Getty Images/Westend61)

But some businesses are trying to get back on track. Ryan Holmes, the CEO of Hootsuite, a major social media management company, admits that as his company grows, it's hard to keep a lid on meetings.

Aware of the productivity pitfalls, Holmes aims to hold short, concise confabs at his Vancouver office. He also likes to keep the guestlist tight and encourages his workers to actually exit or decline meetings they deem pointless for them.

"I get people saying no to my [own] meetings, and I think I'm a pretty important guy with the company, but they do say no." And apparently that's okay.

Holmes also marks Tuesdays and Thursdays as meeting-free days for his engineering staff, whom he says works better without the distractions.

"These people that are thinking [about] really complex problems, that are deep into stuff, if they're constantly interrupted, it's very hard for you to crack the nut on the whole problem."

Take control

Meeting trainer Goldman says to get the most out of meetings, there needs to be a strong leader or referee who provides structure and guidelines.

"Meetings have to have clear outcomes. If you don't have a clear outcome as to what you want to achieve, then why are you having a meeting?"

And what do you do if your company hasn't read the memo on the pitfalls of pointless meetings? Goldman advises frustrated employees to speak up.

"If you don't understand why you're there, if you don't understand what you're there to achieve, you have a right to say, 'You know what, I'm just wondering what's going on here, because I'm a little lost.'"

And if that fails, perhaps it's time to stop doodling and take Holmes's advice — and just walk out.


Sophia Harris

Business reporter

Based in Toronto, Sophia Harris covers consumer and business for CBC News web, radio and TV. She previously worked as a CBC videojournalist in the Maritimes where she won an Atlantic Journalism Award for her work. Contact: