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Meetings, meetings

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 said.

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 dynamic.

"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.

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