During the Great Resignation, The Biggest Obstacle to Management Success Is Too Many Meetings, Says Research

Great Resignation. Burnout. Attrition. The buzzwords of 2021 make it abundantly clear that in the era of remote work, something’s got to give. We are now facing longer workweeks, according to Microsoft’s own well-documented research. We have seen record-breaking resignations, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And burnout continues to rise. Yet the rationale behind why remains a debate.

This week a new analysis from Reclaim.Ai, using aggregated, anonymized data across over 15,000 users, published findings that busy professionals are spending 25.3% more time in meetings compared to February 2020, and 308.8% more time in one-on-one meetings specifically.

Headlines are scarce on the rise of meetings as a cause of burnout as workers try to stay connected but longer workdays affirm these findings. Meanwhile, though one-on-one meetings are essential for a healthy organization to function, they are rescheduled 42.4% of the time on average each week!

According to Patrick Lightbody, CEO and co-founder of Reclaim.ai., “(Hybrid and remote work) has only made it harder for people to be proactive about their time, especially when their schedule changes, which it’s nearly guaranteed to do multiple times per day.”

A recalibration of how leaders think about time, quality of life, and meetings can guide people’s work routine through the post-pandemic period and ultimately fuel growth, talent retention and acquisition. Reclaim.Ai’s report can offer a reflection point for managers to access their own schedules and lives during this period of transition.

We are ‘meeting’ more than ever

Professionals are attending more meetings than they did pre-pandemic. Meetings have increased 69.7% since February 2020 where the average was only 15.1 meetings per week. This totals 21.5 hours of meetings per week, over half of the standard “40-hour workweek”.

“It’s clear from the data that coworkers are striving to stay connected and engaged across remote organizations,” adds Lightbody.

A much-discussed solution is “Nonlinear workdays,” a growing practice among organizations like Dropbox that allows employees to work around a 3-4 hour period where everyone is expected to be available for meetings. Workers can build their day independently outside of these “on” hours. More freedom means more time to focus on the work that matters and even have a life too.

The quantity of one-on-one meetings appears to have gotten out of hand. Reclaim.Ai’s analysis found such meetings increased over 500% since before the pandemic, where professionals used to average just 0.9 per week. From the study:

  • The average person has 1.12 one-on-one meetings per day, where before the pandemic, they averaged less than one per week.
  • The average duration of a one-on-one meeting is 42.9 minutes.
  • Professionals average 278 one-on-one meetings a year, compared to just 45 as of February 2020.
  • Professionals who average 15 or more meetings a week have 430 one-on-ones a year, over four times more than the pre-pandemic average of 100 annually.

Since “water cooler meetings” have virtually vanished under remote work, even these synchronous discussions require workers to make time on the calendar.

That begs lots of questions: What 1:1 meetings are absolutely essential? Which can be a status report or relegated to email? Which can be completely eliminated?

As leaders and managers shift to improve collaboration and productivity, they have to remind themselves that the workplace is drastically different than it was 20 months ago before the shift to a remote workforce.

The organizations and managers that can prioritize the work that matters most these days have to reassure employees that work-life balance remains a top priority to combat burnout. Managers need to emphasize flexible work options and help employees determine which option works best for their work schedule while ensuring adequate one-on-one time to achieve goals and keep morale high.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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