In Brief

Workplace meetings take a toll on many employees' well-being, according to a study published in the January Journal of Applied Psychology (Vol. 91, No. 2). The ill effects of meetings are worst for accomplishment-oriented workers, says study author Steven G. Rogelberg, PhD, an industrial and organizational psychologist at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

"This study provides support for the conceptual stance on meetings as a form of interruption, with negative effects on certain individuals," says Rogelberg. "This perspective, as far as we are aware, has not been previously incorporated into the meeting literature."

Over the course of two studies, Rogelberg and his colleagues administered online surveys to 980 participants from the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom. The participants answered questions about the meetings they attended in a typical week and the meetings they attended daily, including the meetings' frequency, duration and effectiveness. Rogelberg also measured the employees' levels of "accomplishment striving" using the accomplishment-striving subscale of the Motivational Orientation Inventory, which asks participants to rate how much they agree with phrases such as "I set personal goals to get a lot of work accomplished."

Rogelberg found that people high in accomplishment striving, who tend to be highly task and goal oriented, were most negatively affected by meetings. The more meetings these individuals reported attending, the worse they felt about their job and the lower their feelings of well-being at work, perhaps because they viewed the meetings as interruptions to the tasks they set out to accomplish during the workday. For people low in accomplishment striving, or less likely to have specific aims to accomplish, meetings were seen as positive and welcome, perhaps because they give these employees a way to structure their day or socialize, says Rogelberg.

Rogelberg also found that in public people tend to say they dislike meetings. However, when they are asked to rate meetings on a scale of one to five, with five being the most worthwhile, most people rated meetings at three and a half, or slightly positively. Rogelberg speculates that this tendency could be a reflection of people's desire to appear independent in the workplace, noting "It's socially unacceptable to talk about liking meetings, unless someone else starts talking about it."

In addition, people who participate most in meetings, such as those who identify themselves as upper-level management, tend to view them most favorably. Thus, says Rogelberg, when these employees consider meetings to be effective solely because they get to talk a lot, they inevitably miss other key pieces of meeting effectiveness, including their ability to successfully lead the meeting.

"This creates blind spots and prevents them from critically analyzing whether their meeting leadership skills are first rate," says Rogelberg.

--E. Packard