Note: Inc.'s Ask a 20-Something series offers sage advice for navigating all manner of workplace issues, from the perspective of a young employee.
Q: No one likes meetings, but some are necessary. What can I do to make them more tolerable to young staffers?
A: All right. There are a lot of different strategies out there for "fixing" meetings: do them standing (or walking, or even running), nix PowerPoints, institute hard time caps, make them optional, encourage employees to leave if they're bored, and many more.
I think they're all ridiculous.
Not because they're bad suggestions. It's just a silly premise, to begin with. "No one likes meetings" isn't true. More accurate: No one likes boring meetings that don't apply to them.
Call me crazy, but I actually enjoy the majority of meetings I'm in. Team meetings to discuss specific issues? Those affect my day-to-day work, and are worth my attention. All-staff meetings? Rare chances to make my face and voice known to senior leadership (which has directly led to career opportunities). One-on-one meetings with my boss? I'm definitely paying attention, even if my heart rate sometimes spikes.
The boring ones, for me, are the ones that have absolutely nothing to do with me. How egotistical, right? Imagine sitting through yet another meeting that won't teach you anything new or let you share your thoughts and opinions. Or, the topic is so unrelated to your interests--whether professional or personal--that you can't even form any relevant thoughts or opinions.
And inevitably, if it's a two-hour meeting, I end up staying in the office two hours later than usual to get my normal work done. Now I'm feeling both annoyed--probably at you, the person who made me attend this meeting--and unproductive. That's time I'm never getting back. Ugh.
This is backed up by research. In a 2017 study published in the Harvard Business Review, more than half of senior managers surveyed said their meetings regularly wasted the time of both the group and each individual involved. Heck, 65 percent of them said meetings kept them from completing their own work.
Now, to be fair, I'm pretty talkative. I've been known to have some strong opinions on most topics. You may have employees who are a little more hesitant to speak up.
Your key to encouraging their participation: Regulate the number of participants. Speaking in front of a whole room full of people, especially when that room includes your boss (and your boss's boss), can be really intimidating. Having a candid conversation when there are only three or four other people present--even if one is your boss's boss--is much easier.
If you need shy employees to speak up at larger meetings, speak with them about it in advance. Help them prepare. Few people enjoy being put on the spot.
So, to revisit your initial question, here's a two-question litmus test for every meeting:
Will this meeting help these employees do their jobs or grow their careers?
Are these employees likely to actively participate?
If the answer to either question is yes, invite them. If both answers are no, don't. Instead, consider a third question: Is this meeting worth holding at all?
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