Wall-to-Wall Meetings Are Killing Employee Morale. Here’s How to Fight Back.

How companies can relieve, reward, and retain their overworked (and underappreciated) employees.

  • “I’ve got back-to-backs all day.”
  • “I have so many meetings that I don’t have any time to do my actual work.”
  • “I’m booked all week, but let’s put something on the calendar for next week.”
  • “I miss my co-workers. Even Bob.”

You’ve almost certainly said or heard at least one of these statements over the past 18 months (okay, maybe not the Bob part). And if you haven’t, then we should probably trade places and let you write this article — we want to know your secret!

You would certainly be in the minority, though, because the stats around burnout and employee morale since the pandemic began are not pretty (h/t Society for Human Resource Management)…

  • 70% of the global workforce say this has been the most stressful 12 months of their lives
  • 78% say their mental health has been affected
  • Over 80% of U.S. workers claim that they’re stressed
  • Nearly 75% of workers polled in December 2020 said they were burned out (up from 42% at the beginning of the year)

And it’s not as if this is only a Covid-related trend — wall-to-wall meetings (and the burnout that accompanies them) has been on the rise for a while now. Per Harvard Business Review, “meetings have increased in length and frequency over the past 50 years, to the point where executives spend an average of nearly 23 hours a week in them, up from less than 10 hours in the 1960s.”

Take all those factors into account, and it’s no surprise that many employees have reached their breaking point. In fact, according to a recent Microsoft study, 4 in 10 workers are considering leaving their jobs.

So, how can we fight back? What can companies do to help improve employee morale, decrease burnout, and encourage greater efficiency and connection? Here are some guidelines (in no particular order) that we’re following at SuperQuickQuestion

Encourage Breaks

The first tip is perhaps the most obvious — if wall-to-wall meetings are a problem, then encouraging your employees to take mini breaks from all those meetings can be a simple solution. And not surprisingly, the research backs that up. a recent Microsoft report confirmed that having breaks between meetings allowed the participants’ brains to reset, focus, and engage. According to Microsoft, “breaks are important, not just to make us less exhausted by the end of the day, but to actually improve our ability to focus and engage while in those meetings.” Stretch, take a walk, or do some breathing exercises —you’ve earned it…

Do a Meeting Audit

Inertia is a powerful force, and it’s easy to settle into certain routines, but one way to combat burnout is taking a very purposeful look at your calendar. Do your standup meetings really need to be recurring? Looking critically at the frequency, length, and number of participants in your recurring meetings can be eye-opening, and we suspect you’ll find at least one meeting that could transition from a 30-minute group call to an efficient, one-on-one, 60-second SuperQuickQuestion convo.

Foster (Re-)Connection

Pre-pandemic, the “collision” meetings were a big part of what helped keep us moving, agile and happy. So how do we recreate those virtually? One idea is a “Water Cooler Power Hour” of SuperQuickQuestion check-ins with colleagues. Establishing a day and window of time for co-workers to reconnect with each other, ideally about non-work-related topics, is a great way to restore some company culture. Small talk has taken a hit this year, so try to combat burnout by fostering re-connection, even if it’s just to share a quick minute.

Take a Day Off From Meetings

Several companies have found early success combating “Zoom fatigue” by giving their employees a one-day-per-week reprieve from video meetings. Citigroup, for example, issued a company-wide ban on Friday video calls, calling it “Citi Reset Day.” Employees will appreciate knowing they’ll at least get one full day off each week from those wall-to-wall meetings, plus they might start to notice other opportunities for improved efficiency throughout the week, where they can turn unnecessary recurring half-hour meetings into time-saving, morale-boosting 60-second conversations to help them reclaim their calendars.

Say Thanks

Your parents would approve of this one! Tsedal Neeley, a Harvard Business School professor who studies virtual workforces, recently spoke with Kevin Delaney’s Reset newsletter about the importance of acknowledging and saying “thank you” for an email: “In a remote environment where you hardly see people, that is unacceptable… Our etiquette has to be different in a remote environment in order to instill confidence in others.” Voicing your appreciation to your employees and colleagues for their hard work represents a simple (yet crucial) way to help improve company morale.

Eliminate the “Second Shift”

And last but certainly not least, companies should take deliberate, explicit steps to try to eliminate the “second shift.” This term originally referred to the double burden experienced by employed mothers, but it has taken on an even broader definition in an increasingly remote work environment that blurs the lines between everyone’s professional and personal lives, particularly for employees who are stuck in wall-to-wall meetings all day and don’t have time to do their “actual” work until after the 9-to-5 workday ends. There are ways to help end the second shift, however, including establishing company polices around quiet periods, encouraging Slack/Teams snooze notifications, and finding more efficient means of communication then the wall-to-wall meetings that have contributed so strongly to employee burnout.

Become a SuperQuickQuestion Beta Tester

To become a pilot user of SuperQuickQuestion on Slack or Teams, visit our website to get started, and email our founder ([email protected]) to let us know what you think (and potentially earn a sweet SQQ t-shirt)!