A 2021 study conducted by Microsoft concluded that back-to-back meetings are a “disaster” for productivity and mental health. The study was carried out by analyzing the brain activity of employees who volunteered to be hooked up to EEG, with one group sticking with consecutive meetings while the other had breaks in between.
Those in back-to-back meetings experienced spikes in stress and a decrease in the ability to focus and engage. “You’re coming to the end of the meeting, knowing you have another one coming right up, and you’re going to have to switch gears and use your brain to think hard about something else,” said Michael Bohan, Senior Director of Microsoft’s Human Factors Engineering group.
Given the detrimental effects of back-to-back meetings on productivity and mental health, it is unclear why so many businesses still continue to operate this way. Several business owners provided input on this question, whether or not their business addressed this issue, and if they ever dealt with this as an employee.
Ann Martin, Director of Operations of CreditDonkey, says that many businesses still hold back-to-back meetings in the name of efficiency. “Consciously or not, managers sort the day into times when people are working on projects and times when people are discussing or planning how to work on projects. This is especially true in companies where employees are on slightly different schedules and meetings occur when people's schedules align. While the intention behind this impetus is good in that it gives employees unbroken streaks of time to focus on their work, it also results in meetings being stacked on top of each other.”
Matt Weidle, Business Development Manager at Buyer’s Guide offers a similar perspective. He explains that back-to-back meetings cannot be avoided considering the time and availability of the people in the meetings. “It's hard to organize the availability of every person at a specific time or place. That's why organizations and employees are compromising to squeeze their time on back-to-back meetings for the sake of other people's time and availability.” Nata Tsang, CEO of Wall Street Zen tends to agree, since despite her efforts to reduce the number of back-to-back meetings, she says that “it often feels built into the new global work model. It's a balancing act to accommodate every time zone despite the fact that clients and vendors are all busy, and that a missed meeting can cause serious delays.” She also talks about the glass cage effect of back-to-back meetings and always wanting to do more. “Sometimes you only realize you're feeling that spike in stress when you get a chance to step away,” she adds.
Others have shifted their mindset about back-to-back meetings. When Mark Condon, CEO of Shotkit started out five years ago, he too, would conduct regular back-to-back meetings with his employees since there was too much to share, and he wanted to check progress in real-time. “By implementing an employee feedback program that enabled them to update the status thread in their chat channel and chime in with updates instead of calling out meetings every one hour, I came to realize how exhausting these meetings were,” he said.
John Ross, CEO of Test Prep Insight, went as far as banning back-to-back meetings since he did not find such meetings productive, as he could not remember a thing by the end of the day. “Part of our internal policy now is that if you're going to schedule a meeting, you need to give participants you're inviting at least a 15-minute break beforehand,” he adds.
“Inefficient practices like back-to-back meetings continue because of the 'this is how things are always done” mentality and people’s general need to conform,' explains Mark Lewis, General Manager at EcoWatch. Anthony Martin, CEO & Founder of Choice Mutual seems to have a similar stance. He points out that most businesses are not even aware that there is a problem, adding “the root cause is ignorance and a lack of awareness.” He voices his concern by pointing out the fact that “employees are often oblivious to the fact that there is a problem in the first place.”
But George Kocher, founder and CEO of Brand North tends to have a different approach to back-to-back meetings. He feels that the stress level caused by back-to-back meetings varies based on the individual. “Back-to-back meetings are difficult. But I think the level of stress incurred by back-to-back meetings is based on the individual. Some sales professionals with a little more energy thrive on back-to-back meetings because of the structure and too much downtime can be a negative.”
While all agree back-to-back meetings still happen and may be exhausting, unfortunately, it isn't always avoidable in today’s business climate.