What Are the Common Barriers to Employee Participation in Meetings?
It’s the one thing that workers seem united in hating: meetings.
Meetings aren’t going away anytime soon. But this necessary evil always seems to have a deficiency in employee participation. So what if we told you that there are clear root causes of that lack of employee participation, ones that you could fix?
That’s right, participation in meetings is something you can control, not a fact of life you have to deal with. It all comes down to a series of identifiable barriers. Eliminate those barriers, and you may just create the greatest meeting engagement you’ve ever seen.
Let’s discuss what stands in the way of meeting engagement and how you can fix it.
Most Common Barriers to Employee Participation
It’s important to note that these barriers can happen both in in-person, hybrid, and remote work situations. While these are very different employment arrangements, the barriers to engagement tend to be the same across the board. Whether your workforce is all in office or all online, these fixes apply all the same.
There Are Too Many Meetings
Look at most work schedules, and you are bound to see at least a handful of meetings each week. There are managerial meetings, all-staff meetings, quarterly report meetings, and on and on and on. When the average employee might attend a meeting every day, it’s easy to see why meetings are the butt of so many office jokes.
As the saying goes, all things are best in moderation. Too many meetings are simply a drain on employee energy and morale.
How to Fix It
The answer is a simple one: have fewer meetings. Depending on the purpose of these meetings, that may feel like sawing off a leg. There may be important subject matter in these meetings that people ought to know about.
However, you can have fewer meetings and still convey all the information that you need. For starters, condense the meetings to the most important points. Ask chatty employees to save their questions and give them to their managers later.
Identify which information does not require a meeting, such as policy updates. Oftentimes, an email will suffice as well as other collaboration strategies. You can ask subordinates to send confirmation that they have read the email and understand the information.
This means that any leftover meetings will be far more effective. If you go from having 10 meetings a week to just one, employees will be far more attentive and responsive.
Meetings Are Too Long
During the pandemic, Zoom became every workplace’s primary communication tool. And during that period, the average workday increased in length by about 48 minutes. Naturally, people were spending more time in meetings as a result.
Similar to the above point, there may not just be more meetings but unnecessarily long meetings. Think about the last time you were in a long meeting. Remember how your mind began to drift, how the chair made your back ache, and how you began to tap your foot with impatience.
Employees feel exactly the same during meetings that overstay their welcome.
How to Fix It
Similar to cutting back on the number of meetings, this one is about being more concise. There is a very, very good chance that the meetings you are having can be far shorter.
Condense whatever you have planned for a meeting into a brief, point-by-point announcement. Limit this to things that you must absolutely convey verbally. Anything else you consign to an email or a document that you pass around.
Same as the above, don’t allow one or two employees to drag the meeting out with their questions. There’s nothing stopping them from asking you these questions after and letting everybody else get back to work.
Meetings Feel Unproductive
Perhaps the issue is not the number of meetings or how long the meetings are but the effectiveness of them. Why go to a meeting if you feel like it achieves nothing? Statistics suggest that employers waste at least 24 billion hours of time every year on unproductive meetings.
For example, you have a meeting about a new script that employees need to use for specific legal reasons. Many would feel that this is a pointless waste of time. It’s a simple concept that doesn’t require much explanation at all.
All they really need is the script and the situations when they should use it. Anyone with questions can easily get in contact with a supervisor.
How to Fix It
You may have noticed a common theme here: if an email can do it, there’s no reason for a meeting.
Have a sit-down during staff meeting planning and really contemplate the purpose of every meeting. What are you hoping to achieve, and is there no other way to achieve it?
If you can solve a particular problem without a meeting, then do it. Employees will thank you greatly and appreciate being able to put their energy towards other work.
Nothing to Contribute to Collaborative Meetings
Many meetings are all-staff meetings. Everyone from sales to accounting is there, whether or not the topics concern them. If not that, it’s a topic they don’t have much to opine on.
Or employees don’t have the option to contribute. They may be stuck on an online platform that has no whiteboard for them to visualize their ideas. The limitation of being a remote worker could effectively prevent their participation.
How to Fix It
It’s important for employers to divvy up meetings according to specialty. There’s no good reason for a customer service agent to be in a meeting about accounting. Have shorter meetings for specific employee classes rather than large, general meetings.
Provide tools for employees to offer up their ideas, especially in remote and hybrid work situations.
Lack of a Safe Space
The word safe space gets a lot of traction these days, but it’s a very simple concept. It’s important to give people, especially your employees, a place where they feel comfortable to express themselves.
Oftentimes, a meeting is a “hostile” place for them to be. An employee is anxious about revealing their true feelings. They fear scorn or reprisals from their boss, managers, or fellow coworkers.
Times are getting hard, so people won’t risk anything that threatens their job security. Being vocal on a certain topic at the workplace is a great way to ruin any opportunities for bonuses or a pay raise. In certain situations, it could get them a one-way ticket to HR.
How to Fix It
This one is a bit trickier to solve than the others because the solution is creating an inviting work culture. People are often on their guard when clocked in. They put up a front as they make small talk or handle their duties, forcing them to hide their true feelings deeper down.
Aspire to create a workplace that truly feels like home. Work on teambuilding experiences, even with a hybrid or remote workforce. Create a policy of rewarding honesty, not punishing it. Rather than penalizing employees for making critical commentary, encourage it.
The more inviting, accepting, and open the workplace is, the more likely people will speak up during meetings. And that’s a benefit for you; you know what your employees are really thinking, not a curated lie.
There Is No Staff Meeting Participation
Another common issue is that meetings feel like a one-way street. The boss is talking down to the employees and makes no appearance that they want any response. Naturally, employees take this cue and remain silent.
This is an excellent chance for people to zone out and start to daydream. Even a fairly engaging public speaker can turn a meeting into a slog if it’s just them on the pulpit. Nobody likes a monolog, after all!
Perhaps there is some lively discussion and meeting engagement, but not about business matters. People may struggle to stay on topic. In either case, you have a problem here.
How to Fix It
Make meetings less of a speech and more of a dialog. If you are going on for many long minutes without anybody else speaking, you may be talking too much.
One easy way to fix this is to delegate. Have staff members handle certain parts of the meetings and encourage discussion about them after they happen.
Learn how to conduct meetings, whether in a hybrid or remote setting. Sometimes the lack of participation may be because of established rules. For example, employees remaining muted during Zoom calls.
Meetings Lack the Occasional Fun
We get it, meetings are often important business that you need to conduct. Too much levity might lead employees to take it less seriously. This leads to the unfortunate side effect that meetings can be quite dry–not exactly conducive to an environment people want to be in.
Lack of any enjoyment can create that sort of anxiety where they are sitting at the edge of their chairs. They are counting down the seconds, anxiously awaiting for the all-clear to leave.
People associate meetings with pure boredom for a good reason. Many meetings offer them almost no incentive to attend.
How to Fix It
You don’t need to make a meeting a party, per se. Rather, insert some nuggets of fun here or there so people actually look forward to them.
These could be brief teambuilding activities, such as Jeopardy-style questions. You could have employees talk more about their personal lives, such as weekend plans or future goals. These can be brief respites from the grind, only a couple of minutes to lighten the mood.
Again, these activities don’t need to take over the meeting and reduce productivity. But they will set the tone and create an upbeat environment. One that inspires activity.
Meetings Don't Take Employee Input
As we’ve mentioned, many meetings are about policy updates. Sometimes, that policy affects employees. Depending on what the policy is, it could be a blindside that they were not expecting.
For example, perhaps there is a new policy about work attire. It might be a somewhat extreme policy compared to the previous one. Employees may be frustrated or angry at the sudden change.
But given how many meetings are structured, it’s a top-down, one-way conversation as we mentioned earlier. There is no room for employees to push back. This leads to hidden resentment for the employer.
How to Fix It
Similar to creating a safe space, the root cause of this is a work culture issue. Employees don’t feel that their input is needed or wanted. They are reticent to provide their real thoughts, especially because their employer does not ask for them.
You would do well to take employee input when making decisions that affect them. At the end of the day, you’re the boss and can make any decisions you please. But there will be a greater sense of unity and purpose if your employees at least feel that they have some say.
During meetings, employees might have suggestions on how to do things better. After all, they are the grunts on the front line. They may have some valuable insight on improving efficiency and process.
Make Meetings the Best They Can Be
Getting employee participation in meetings has been a dilemma employers have struggled with for as long as meetings have been a thing. In the vast majority of cases, there are identifiable barriers in the way of meeting engagement. Once you recognize what those are, you can eliminate them and have far more successful gatherings.
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