Sure, they get bashed all the time as time-wasters and money-drainers. But a recent survey of employees found that most people actually like meetings.

The survey of 800 workers — conducted by a research team led by organizational scientists Steven Rogelberg, Cliff Scott, and John Kello from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte — found that 50 percent of respondents complain about meetings publicly, but when surveyed privately, have views that are more favorable.

When asked about the productivity of meetings, 42 percent rated them as good, and 17 percent said they are very good to excellent. A quarter of respondents were neutral, while just 15 percent rated them as poor or worse. It seems as if all the complaining about meetings being a waste of time might be “a socially acceptable norm, rather than based on true disdain,” states the report.

Not All Rosy

On the flip side, 50 percent of the survey's respondents feel that most meetings leave room for improvement. Among the most common shortcomings: lack of pre-meeting communication, unnecessary meetings, mismanaged conflicts, uneven participation, inadequate problem formulation, meetings that were necessary but inefficient, unfocused discussion with no outcomes achieved, problems with the physical meeting environment, and the wrong kind of speakers.

While ineffective meetings could have an effect on job satisfaction, effective meetings, the study concludes, have a positive effect. “Many employees desire meetings, value opportunities to participate and share information, and relish opportunities to interact about common interests,” said the authors. “When employees participate in few or no meetings, they may feel less empowered, deprived of information, or worse.”

Make Them Better

For more effective meetings, the researchers say that it's critical to have an agenda, distribute it in advance, set time limits for each item, establish ground rules to promote participation and results, consider the order in which items are discussed, and discuss leader and participant roles and expectations. “Pay careful attention to time,” researchers say. “Start and end the meeting on time. Provide structured, budgeted opportunities for small talk, but don't waste people's time.” The meeting environment — the facility, space, temperature, and refreshments — also contribute to an effective meeting.

Groups should periodically evaluate their meetings to analyze the pace, flow, tone, and results.

The average employee spends about six hours per week in meetings, according to the report.

For all the time spent in meetings, the UNC-Charlotte researchers suggest that companies do “little to continuously monitor and improve such an important and time-consuming activity.”

Steve Kaye, author of several books on effective meetings, agrees. “I think there's a huge amount of denial regarding meetings,” says Kaye, a professional facilitator and owner of One Great Meeting, Placentia, Calif. “Many executives really believe that they are outstanding leaders and hold very effective meetings, and the truth is, they don't.” The two go hand in hand, because if an executive can't run a good meeting with clear goals and outcomes, Kaye questions his or her ability to run a business effectively.

Kaye's view of meetings is a bit more negative than the UNC-Charlotte research survey. According to his own client surveys, the average employee spends about 40 percent of his time in meetings, and 50 percent of that time is spent in bad meetings. That translates to wasting one full day a week in bad meetings.

The bottom line? Kaye estimates that 20 percent of the average company's payroll is spent on ineffective meetings.

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