How Meetings are Destroying Your Employee Engagement Efforts

January 10, 2023

meetings employee engagement

Sales team sitting around conference table

According to Organizational Psychologist Steven Rogelberg, there are 55 million meetings every day in the United States alone. They run the gamut from one-on-ones to stand ups to all hands to brainstorming sessions to team building, and many more. While some managers and even some employees enjoy meetings, research shows that only around 50% of meeting time is effective, with even lower rates for remote meetings. According to one study, the cost of these poorly organized meetings in the US is nearly $400 billion dollars!

Increasingly, businesses are recognizing the dramatic financial costs of badly run meetings, with companies like Shopify working to drastically reduce the number of meetings. But there is another more insidious cost of bad meetings: undermining and destroying your employee engagement efforts.

The Study

A journal article titled, “Manager-Led Group Meetings: A Context for Promoting Employee Engagement” authored by Joseph Allen and Steven Rogelberg aims to understand and measure the impact of meetings on employee engagement. Interestingly, in this article from 2013, they write that there are more than 11 million meetings every day in the United States. This implies that the number of daily meetings has quintupled in the last decade!

They break down employee engagement into three psychological components according to William Kahn’s Theory of Engagement:

  1. Psychological meaningfulness - Employees feeling valued, worthwhile, and able to give of themselves.
  2. Psychological safety - Employees feeling able to not be judged for their self-image, status, or career.
  3. Psychological availability - Employees having the physical, emotional, and psychological resources to perform the role.

Similarly, they break meetings into three components:

  1. Meeting relevance - The degree to which the meeting is perceived as relevant.
  2. Voice in meetings - The degree to which employees are encouraged to speak up and be heard.
  3. Meeting time management - Whether meetings start and end on time, and employees can arrange their other activities.

Let’s take a look at how each of these meeting components affect each of the employee engagement psychological components:

Meeting Relevance

Allen and Rogelberg found that meeting relevance was related to psychological meaningfulness. Intuitively, this makes sense. Inviting employees to relevant meetings shows that you value and respect them, and understand that they have a variety of other obligations and goals. On the flip side, employees sitting through irrelevant meetings can become bored and anxious about all of the other things they need to accomplish.

Voice in Meetings

With respect to voice in meetings, Allen and Rogelberg found that psychological safety had a statistically significant correlation. This also makes a lot of sense. If employees are encouraged to speak up, and given the opportunity to have their ideas fully heard, they are much more likely to feel safe in not just the meetings, but all other aspects of their work. This would allow them to more fully engage themselves and contribute to the workplace.

Meeting Time Management

Finally, with respect to meeting time management, Allen and Rogelberg found that all three psychological components were related. By starting and ending meetings on time, managers are showing that they value the employees’ time, respect the employees’ boundaries, and are providing the resources they need to fully engage in their work. This component of successful meetings is the only one that correlates with all three of the psychological components. By scheduling meetings at appropriate times, and starting and ending them on time, it shows employees that you understand all of their responsibilities both within the workplace and outside the workplace.

Improving Employee Engagement By Improving Meetings

Corporate meeting culture has evolved rapidly over the last decade, going from 11 million meetings a day to 55 million meetings a day in the United States. The proliferation of video meetings and one-on-ones in recent years have surely contributed to this rapid increase in the number of meetings. And while all of these meetings may feel like the norm now, there’s a real danger that this increase in meetings is causing real harm to your employee engagement efforts. The authors of the study conclude:

This study provides evidence that an often ignored context, workgroup meetings, can be used to develop or support the psychological conditions for engagement and overall employee engagement. Specifically, as managers make their workgroup meetings relevant, allow for employee voice in their meetings where possible, and manage the meeting from a time perspective, employees appear poised to fully engage themselves in their work in general. Thus, workgroup meetings are sites where engagement can be fostered, or if not conducted properly, sites where engagement can be derailed.

They caution in their last sentence that poorly conducted meetings can derail your employee engagement efforts. So take an inventory of your meeting etiquette. Make sure that employees are only invited to relevant meetings, make sure they start and end on time, schedule them at appropriate times, and ensure that employees have a safe space to be heard. You’ll not only save a lot of time and money, but also have a real impact on your employee engagement efforts.

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