Meeting inefficiency: a multi-billion waste

Our economies are in a productivity crisis12. For a part this is because we are overwhelmed by the complexity of modern business. We send emails with twenty cc instead of just getting the thing done. We spend more and more time in meetings every day, meeting complex issues down instead of clearing them up. Some go so far to say, that we reached a state, where effective work cannot be done any more in the office3.

Already in 2001, the annual waste of personnel costs through inefficient meetings was estimated to be in the multi-billion dollar range, and this was for managers alone4. This number is likely to have increased and must be much higher if all meeting costs, not only from managers, are included. While it is hard to come by more recent and creditable numbers, we can try to best guess the order of magnitude.

An estimate of meeting costs

From more than $7 trillion of personnel costs in the U.S. in 20155, and almost the same number of € in the EU 6, let us ignore the half with absurdly high incomes and cautiously assume 10% are spent for meetings (7-15% were estimated in 20014, 6-9 hours per week is another estimate7). That would account for more than $300 billion costs for meetings. If a third of this time is wasted (maybe even half of it 8), meeting inefficiency costs $100 billion. In the U.S. as well as the EU. Every year.

Every organization should undertake an assessment of the meeting costs and the return of invest9. Hardly any other business decision of that magnitude is made on a less informed base, as the decision to hold the next meeting (OK - maybe the decision for more bureaucracy, like to introduce the next form to fill can compete). Meetings should not be considered as inevitable overhead costs, but as an investment of considerable resources that must proof its return like any other investment.
René Hoffmann, 04.08.2016
1Morieux, Y. How too many rules at work keep you from getting things doneTED 2015  
2OECD. OECD Compendium of Productivity Indicators 2016OECD Publ. Paris 2016  
3Jason, F. Why work doesn’t happen at workTED 2010  
4Romano, N. C.; Nunamaker, J. F. Meeting analysis: findings from research and practiceProc. 34th Annu. Hawaii Int. Conf. Syst. Sci. 2001  p. 13 
5Bureau of Economic Analysis. Personal income and outlays: August 2015U.S. Dep. Commer. 2015  
6EC. Compensation of employeesEurostat 2015  
7Parker, B. Research on Meetings : The Good , The Bad , and The Flipflipthemeeting 2015  
8Monge, P.; McSween, C.; Wyer, J. A profile of meetings in corporate America: Results of the 3M meeting effectiveness studyAnnenb. Sch. Commun. Univ. South. Calif. 1989  
9Rogelberg, S. G.; Shanock, L. R.; Scott, C. W. Wasted Time and Money in Meetings: Increasing Return on InvestmentSmall Gr. Res. 2011