Meetings are depressing for most people - but not everyone
February 27 2006 - Meetings, don't we hate them? Apparently, there
was a doubling (at least) of meetings at work in the second half of the 20th Century. The implications have been
little studied but recent research on the link between the experience of meetings and the
effects on worker well-being has shown some surprising findings.
Written by a team of psychologists, led by Steven G. Rogelberg from the
University of North Carolina at Charlotte, the research(*) is reported in the March issue of
the Journal of Applied Psychology. It is claimed to be the first
international scientific study ever conducted on the effects of meeting time on
employee well-being and is based on responses from 980 employees to two work surveys.
One significant finding is that more people actually believe that meetings are a positive
part of the workday than they will admit publicly.
"When speaking publicly, people generally claim that they hate meetings,"
said Rogelberg, "but in the surveys you see a different story - some people's private
sentiments are much more positive.
"It's an interesting finding because it really helps to explain why we
have all these meetings. And, though they are typically publicly negative, overwhelmingly
people say that they want the day to have at least one meeting. They have to feel like
they are accomplishing something positive in their meetings to produce this response," he
The two surveys tested the impact of meetings on employees in two different contexts - at
the end of a specific day and in general, by examining the number of meetings employees
had in a typical week.
It appears that some individuals see meetings as interruptions while
others regard them as welcome events. The study finds that the effects of meetings on worker well-being is
"moderated" by three different factors:
- by whether jobs specifically require group work,
- by whether the meetings were efficiently run, and perhaps most importantly,
- by where the worker falls on the personality scale of her/his "accomplishment striving."
"People differ on this accomplishment striving personality scale,"
Rogelberg explained. "In general, you can think of people who are high in accomplishment
striving are those individuals who are very task-focused, who are very goal-focused, who
have goals and objectives for the day that they want to get accomplished. People who have
low accomplishment striving are not slackers, though -- they are just individuals with a
much more flexible orientation to work and like to allow the agenda for the day to emerge
much more naturally."
According to this research, individuals high in accomplishment striving
are predictably and negatively affected by meetings - particularly if they are frequent.
A large number of short meetings affect their well-being more than a few long meetings - even if they
take the same overall amount of time.
But meetings had a positive impact on respondents with low scores on accomplishment
striving. They seemed to welcome meetings and the more time they spent in meetings,
the greater their sense of well-being.
"People who are high in accomplishment striving look at meetings more
from the perspective of seeing them as barriers to getting real work done," Rogelberg
said. "But the others may view meetings as a way to structure their day or a way to
network and socialize. As a result, these people see meetings as a good thing."
Steven Rogelberg observes that there are some intriguing social paradigms operating that disguise the
"It is socially unacceptable to talk about liking meetings, unless
someone else starts talking about it," he said, explaining why the low accomplishment
striving folks do not go public with their preference for meeting. "And it is also
interesting that the people who are high on accomplishment striving are not complaining
more than the others. The toll that meetings take seems to be much more subtle. If you ask
these individuals if they are more dissatisfied with the meetings, they don't report
anything different from those who enjoy meetings," he said.
* "Not another meeting" Are Meeting Time Demands Related to
Employee Well-Being?, was authored by Steven G. Rogelberg, Desmond J. Leach from the
University of Sheffield and Jennifer L. Burnfield from Bowling Green State University.
It appears in the current issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 91, Issue 2.