Spending Too Much Time in Meetings?

We must honor our staff and board members by treating their time as holy and precious.

by Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz

I recall one workplace culture in which meetings happened for a set amount of time regardless of any need for discussion. I recall the workplace resentment of feeling stuck in futile immobility. Even worse, many Americans have been in businesses where they were constantly brought into meetings for the purpose of discussing why deadlines were not being met (and management did not even get the joke). It would not take a doctor to conclude that employees at these companies would not only have low morale, but possibly poorer mental and even physical health as a result of these tedious and disheartening rituals.

Recent reports revealed that $30 billion could be saved in this country if we eliminated unnecessary and poorly run meetings. Research shows that 37.5% of meetings are considered “poorly run or unnecessary” and that not a single decision is made in 65% of all meetings.

Instead of endless meetings, companies would be better off implementing workplace health programs, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes as a comprehensive approach to employee health that includes education, access to exercise opportunities, encouragement of healthy lifestyles, and preventive health insurance coverage. Implementing these measures will reduce insurance premiums and also appears to lower worker absenteeism and raise productivity.

The American Psychological Association (APA) performed a 2014 survey of American workers and their morale and well-being, revealing that the perception of treatment at work had profound consequences. Employees who believe they are of value to management (versus those who did not feel valued) are:

  • Three times as likely to be satisfied with their jobs as are employees who do not feel valued (92% versus 29%, respectively)
  • Far less likely to feel stressed out by work (29% versus 56%, respectively)
  • Significantly more likely to report better psychological health (89% versus 69%, respectively)

In addition, this well-being benefits management as well. In addition to less absenteeism and reduced health costs, the APA found that happy workers are more likely to recommend their companies to other people (85% versus 15%). In 2013, the winning companies of the APA Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award had a 2012 turnover rate less than one-sixth that of the average company (6% versus 38%, respectively).

It makes sense to have workplace clarity, consensus, and collaboration, but this can’t come at the expense of our productivity and health. The implementation of sensible programs that enhance worker health and morale is a win-win situation for employers and employees, and far more productive than purposeless meetings.

We have come a long way from authoritarian top-down work cultures (and still have a long way to go) so meetings of collaboration (that aren’t just about delegation) are important. But we also need to give individuals time to be alone in their work.
This should be true for all industries but especially in the Jewish nonprofit sector where we should model kavod habriot (honoring the dignity of others) in the workplace. Further, Jewish texts are constantly diminishing bitul zeman (the waste of time) and making the case for the sanctity of our limited time in our life to actualize our purposes. We must honor our staff and board members by treating their time as holy and precious.

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Executive Director of the Valley Beit Midrash, the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute and the author of five books on Jewish ethics. Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America.