Eight in 10 (80 per cent) employees feel anxious about attending online work meetings, a new study has revealed.
The survey of 2,000 US remote and hybrid workers by Craft Docs also found that too much time is spent in meetings, with the average worker giving just over four hours a week of their time. And 14 per cent of managers say they have more than seven hours of meetings in an average week.
Overall, 59 per cent of employees believe that the number of hours they spend in meetings each week could be reduced.
According to the report, the “alarming number” of respondents who experience meeting anxiety is “cause for concern”.
It said: “Mental health is pivotal to overall wellbeing. Work-induced stress, especially from excessive meetings, has both immediate and long-term repercussions. This includes everything from decreased day-to-day productivity to potential long-term mental health issues, which can lead to increased sick leave, burnout and higher turnover rates.”
The growth in hybrid working has brought about an increase in online meetings, said Katy Sawyer, chief people officer at Onebright. “The new conundrum for management is how to balance productivity with the right level of meetings, while not impacting on wellbeing and engagement,” she added.
“If a meeting is found to be ineffective, this will inevitably cause unnecessary anxiety, with work pressures building as a result of time wasted.”
According to the survey, more than a third of respondents said they received no value from their most recent meeting, and 72 per cent said that at least one of the meetings they attended in the last two weeks could have been communicated via email instead.
Meetings make people feel like they are taking action, said Sawyer; however, “a meeting without a clear purpose, agenda, action points or the right people in attendance is useless”.
“Time is precious, and so often people pop meetings in the calendar without thinking of other methods of communication that could work better for the purpose,” she continued.
“Many managers use meetings to make sure their employees are OK, perhaps overcompensating for the lack of ‘watercooler’ opportunities.”
For Sophie Bryan, founder and chief workplace culture consultant at Ordinarily Different, the fact that so many employees think these meetings are unnecessary “leaves us wondering why the meetings are there in the first place”.
“It seems relevant to question whether it’s a way for managers to check up on their workers – after all, remote working can make some managers wonder if their employees would be more productive in an office,” Bryan said.
“However, this isn’t always the case; in fact, it’s feasible that managers do it to reassure themselves that everyone is on the same page.”
According to Jess Lancashire, CEO and founder of From Another, the future of work is evolving, which creates “an opportunity to do things differently”.
“Rather than relying on constant oversight, organisations need to support managers to learn to build trust by fostering open communication and developing strong relationships within their teams,” she said.
“With strong relationships cultivated, managers can be more selective in scheduling meetings, using email, chat or phone calls for quick check-ins. Video meetings are still great for collaboration and connection, but managers could be intentional about when they are truly necessary.”
To help reduce the number of hours spent in meetings each week, the poll revealed that almost three quarters of workers feel that sharing written updates and important information ahead of the call could help, while 70 per cent believe that using collaboration tools to communicate asynchronously could be beneficial, as employees would be able to respond to information at their own pace, away from real-time discussions.
Lancashire said practices such as “limiting video meetings, offering camera-off time and asynchronous work can relieve anxiety when employees feel comfortable and trusted”.
“When employees feel intrinsically valued – not extrinsically watched – their performance and wellbeing improve,” she added. “Examining and resolving the underlying causes of anxiety paves the way for a healthier virtual environment.”