Steven G. Rogelberg, Desmond J. Leach, Peter B. Warr, Jennifer L. Burnfield

Journal of Applied Psychology, January 2006

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There are lots of meetings in the average workplace. Reports indicate that the average number of meetings at work more than doubled in the second half of the 20th century and time spent in meetings keeps growing. While the importance of this change has been largely unnoticed, a new study on the effects of meetings on worker well-being reveals some surprising dynamics behind modern meeting mania, with broad implications for the effects on morale and productivity.

The report, written by a team of researchers led by Steven G. Rogelberg from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, describes the first international scientific study ever performed on the effects of meeting time on employee well-being, based on the responses of 980 employees to two work surveys. One of the report’s findings was that more people actually view meetings as a positive part of the workday than they will admit publicly.

The two surveys tested the impact of meetings on employees in two different contexts — at the end of a specific day and in general, by examining the number of meetings employees had in a typical week. The study finds that for some individuals meetings function as interruptions and for others they are welcome events. The effects of meetings on worker well-being is “moderated” by three different factors – by whether jobs specifically require group work, by whether the meetings were efficiently run, and, perhaps critically, by where the worker falls on the personality scale of her/his “accomplishment striving.”

The study finds that people who are high in accomplishment striving are predictably and negatively impacted by meetings, particularly when they are frequent. Numerous short meetings have a greater impact on their well-being than a few long meetings taking the same amount of time.

However, survey participants who scored low in accomplishment striving were positively impacted by meetings. They appeared to be welcome events rather than interruptions. More time in meetings was associated with a greater sense of well-being.