My face is falling asleep

Nothing against creative dialogue with colleagues at work. But meetings are frequently a huge waste of time, according to our author.

I’m lucky. Since I’ve been working as a freelance journalist, I’ve been spared a lot. Commuting to work, for example. I don’t get stuck in traffic or in the corridor of an overcrowded train. But what’s much better: I don’t have to attend any more meetings. Of course, I still have meetings or conceptual discussions with my clients. But these are about a specific interview, piece of reporting or article. Work meetings like that are usually held with no more than three people and they’re over in a flash as soon as everything has been discussed. But I can well remember the time when I was still an employee. There was no escape. Morning meetings, weekly meetings, briefing meetings, debriefing meetings – whatever the meeting involving the whole department and its head was called, it was always pretty much the same.
And it went like this:

Braggers and empty phrases
The whole gang meet more or less punctually in a much too small, stuffy conference room, sit down around the table and wait for something to happen. There’s always someone who comes late, of course. Mr or Mrs Bragger was busy saving the world. Or they were simply in the toilet, tidying their hair. Finally everybody is there and the meeting can start. And immediately, you’re bombarded with empty phrases from one end of the table. The talk is of quick wins that you have to focus on proactively as this is the only way to achieve the core values. Another colleague takes the opportunity to big themselves up with plagiarized ideas. Another who can’t even manage that bores the meeting with their wildly exciting private life. Others don’t say anything at all, play with their mobile phone, bite their fingernails or write to-do lists. No, not for their job. They’re just reminding themselves to buy butter. And cat food. And that it’s time for their annual check-up with their gynaecologist.

Boredom to the point of nodding off
Minutes turn to hours and the meeting goes on and on. The air gets stuffier and stuffier. And it seems just a matter of time until somebody nods off. Which is no rare occurrence, by the way. The electronics company Sharp surveyed over 2,000 employees in different companies in Europe and came to the conclusion that one out of ten employees has fallen asleep in a meeting. Ten percent had made up an excuse for leaving the room early. No wonder, then, that according to a study by management consultants Bain & Company, over 50 percent of all meetings are regarded as a waste of time by those attending them.

Stand or keep quiet
According to the above study, employees in companies spend around 15 percent of their time in meetings – and the figure is trending upwards. Ingenious minds have thought of all kinds of ruses to keep the waste of time to a minimum. ‘Stand-ups’, for example, or meetings held on foot. These take up around one third less time and they reliably prevent anyone from falling asleep. Amazon boss Jeff Bezos has developed a special method to combat the endless waffle: a silent start. No-one speaks for up to half an hour. But they don’t spend the time dozing. No. The time is to be used to read the material for the meeting or prepare yourself for the upcoming discussion.

Canteen instead of meeting I’m not sure if that does any good. In any case, I’m glad that I’m spared the 25 hours of meetings a month which, according to the Sharp study, people feel are ineffective. It adds up to a lot of time that can be put to better use. For working, for example. Or for a walk. Or going for lunch with your colleagues. According to a study by Cornell University, that’s not only supposed to improve teamwork but also boost performance in general. So from that point of view, the canteen is preferable to any meeting. Bon appétit!

Marianna Siegenthaler lives as a freelance author in Uetikon am See.