Do we organise too many meetings? Tips for efficient meeting etiquette and time management

On average, Flemish employees spend 3 hours and 48 minutes per working week in meetings. This was revealed in research conducted by Ghent University. These personal opportunities for consultation are often useful, provided organisers think carefully before planning them. How does an employee and an organisation ensure a smart meeting culture? 

Whether it concerns an innovative idea for an interesting project or a message of general interest, if we want to share something with colleagues, we don’t hesitate to schedule a meeting. But maybe we should think twice before doing so. Research by Ghent University shows that a considerable number of Flemish employees would be more than happy if they spent less time in meetings.

Flanders’ meeting habits: a few key figures from the study by Ghent University

  • Five in ten Flemish employees are in favour of a predetermined time per week or per month that is guaranteed free of meetings. Four in ten are open to the idea and only one in ten are against it. Most of those in favour are familiar with the specific system of a guaranteed meeting-free half-day per week, although the difference with other arrangements (a half or full day per week or per month) is not significant.

  • In addition to improved well-being, many Flemish employees expect time that is guaranteed free of meetings to result in an increase in productivity. 48% of respondents indicated that a half-day per week without any meetings would increase their productivity. Only 16% did not expect this to be the case. 36% did not express any expectations.

Meetings: who, why, when?

Leonoor Pietercil, Prevention Adviser Psychosocial Aspects, explains that it is best to ask yourself a few questions before sending out a meeting invitation. “Those questions determine if, when and with whom you organise the meeting.”

What is the purpose of the meeting?

Not every message really needs to be communicated during a meeting. “Think, for instance, of a new strategic decision the board would like to share with employees or feedback on an assignment. An effective e-mail constitutes a more logical form of communication in these situations.”

For whom is the meeting really relevant?

Do employees feel surplus to requirements at a meeting? That can lead to frustration. After all, more time spent in meetings means less time to work on assignments. “Therefore, only invite employees if they have a clear role to play during the meeting. By doing so, you also avoid the group becoming too large. The efficiency of a meeting often decreases if there are more than ten participants. If the topics and specific action points discussed are still relevant to multiple employees, you can always send a summary afterwards,” explains Leonoor.

When should I schedule a meeting?

Focus and time management are essential if a working day is to be productive. “If you know that it takes 10 to 30 minutes before you can refocus on a task after a meeting, it soon becomes clear that frequent meetings are detrimental to the workload or productivity.”

“Days or half days guaranteed free of meetings offer an effective solution for this,” Leonoor continues. “Employees can then continue working efficiently on assignments. Greater focus, less stress, more productivity: these are just some of the benefits of time free of meetings.

“Moreover, it creates scope for employees to participate in important meetings at other times without feeling stressed. If it is possible to allow employees that scope, it is best to discuss at team level when they can schedule those days.” 

The ABC of happiness at work

“Meetings can be a source of energy and inspiration if you adopt the right approach. Start with the ABC theory, which states that three pillars determine the happiness of employees”, reveals Leonoor. “This specifically concerns autonomy, involvement and competence. A formula best applied as much as possible in meetings too.” 

“It actually starts before everyone is seated around the table. Set an unambiguous agenda and objectives in advance and let participants prepare for the meeting. This means everyone knows why they are participating, less time is spent on clarification and context, and employees get the most out of the meeting.”

“Assign everyone a clear role during the meeting, in line with their competences. One person can take the minutes, while another monitors the time or ensures a relaxed check-in. This increases focus and involvement, making the meeting more efficient. Incorporating a moment when participants can move around every now and then also maintains energy levels.”

The role of good leadership

A balanced meeting culture hinges on good leadership. Is everyone expected to use time spent in meetings efficiently? If so, these rules of thumb are essential:

  1. Set a good example.
  2. Rely on trust and open communication.
  3. Establish clear expectations with regard to meetings. 

“At the same time, offer employees the opportunity to take responsibility. It should be possible for an employee to excuse himself from a meeting that is actually unnecessary for him,” concludes Leonoor.

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