When Marie, a sales assistant, showed up for a routine meeting with a big-time retail client, she didn’t expect to find the guy drunk… with a bird cage containing a latex chicken hanging on the wall behind him. Nor did she expect him to spend the entire meeting on the phone, haggling over money with a bunch of car dealerships.
“I thought about Kafka,” Marie says. “This was so weird.”
While most meetings from hell aren’t quite so surreal, they’re every bit as maddening. Take Judy, who worked as managing editor at a magazine and had the classic sitcom experience of suggesting a story idea in a meeting only to have her boss ignore her and then present the idea as his own ten minutes later.
“Everyone’s jaw dropped as they turned to look at me,” she says.
Or Lawrence, who worked for a travel company where the president’s wife (who doubled as the business manager) would monopolize the first 10 minutes of every meeting by lecturing the staff on the finer points of carpet stain removal. Sometimes, she would even demonstrate how the team should go about cleaning spilled coffee from her prized new office carpeting.
Then there’s Ruth, who worked at a non-profit arts organization where many a meeting devolved into a group therapy session:
“At my very first staff meeting, one woman announced that she had to leave early because she was going to see her therapist, another woman started crying over something and then apologized because she was hormonal, and more time was spent talking about hair than anything else.”
With such a sense of uselessness and futility at meetings – and such a dizzying percentage of the workday sucked up by them – is it any wonder that so many attendees have taken to working on their laptops, texting friends, even snoozing through them, often in plain sight of the boss? Should it come as any surprise that workers overwhelmed by the onslaught of irrelevant meetings block out several days a month on their calendars so they can get some actual work done?
Managers, the next time you feel compelled to schedule a team meeting, think long and hard before you click Send. The way to earn your employees’ respect is not by scheduling a pre-launch meeting to discuss what next week’s launch meeting will discuss. It’s not by holding a meeting at 7 a.m. on a Monday or 6:30 p.m. on a Friday. It’s not by showing up five minutes before the hour-long meeting you called is scheduled to end (and no, you don’t get points for actually showing up). And it’s certainly not by hijacking a meeting so you and the one other manager in attendance can beat to death a topic that has nothing to do with the cube monkeys helplessly held captive in the conference room.
Managers, don’t say it with a meeting when you can say it with an email. Don’t say it with a meeting before you know what the heck it is you want to say. Don’t be the crazy drunk guy with the rubber chicken in a bird cage who haggles with car salesmen during meetings with business colleagues. And if you have to be that guy, make sure you bring enough booze for the rest of the class.
Michelle Goodman, author of The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube. Her articles and essays also appear in Salon, Bust, Bitch, Bark, and the Seattle Times. She regularly blogs about career change and self-employment at www.anti9to5guide.com.