Studies Find 71% Meetings Unproductive, Wasting $37 Billion Per Year in the U.S.

Madelaine Weiss
4 min readFeb 22, 2022

Table of Contents

The Problem with Meetings

It’s happening. People are going back to the office. Probably not 5 days per week. Possibly not that ever again.

One young professional told me that it will be 2 days per week in-person, mostly for meetings. Then he added that people would be sitting in their own offices, attending by zoom individually, the same way they have been doing from home.

Perhaps the most memorable thing I learned in business school is that humans are rational. Even if the reason is not obvious, there is a reason in there somewhere.

So why on earth would they bring people into the office, only to isolate them for the meetings they are ostensibly there to attend? One reason is that hybrid or virtual meetings make it possible for different types personalities to contribute in ways that suit them.

From a Harvard Business Review article:

Hybrid or virtual meetings are inherently more inclusive than in-person ones, as they allow participation from all kinds of personalities — those who would raise their hand and speak and those who would prefer to chat in their comments. Even if people are in the office, ask them to sign into your meetings from their desks to level the playing field for those who are joining remotely.

So why have people go into the office at all, when they can just raise their hands on zoom, or post in the chat? Always a reason, so here are some reasons for that from Forbes:

  • Being together in shared purpose creates social identity that feels good.
  • Social connection is good for our health and well-being.
  • Physical proximity increases quality of work.
  • Visibility is good for relationship building and career advancement.

And, some managers may find it easier to reassure themselves that people are actually working, when they can see it with their own eyes.

Everyone is still figuring this out, and much will depend on what seems to be working, and not, as thing unfolds over time.

What is certain, however, is that meetings, in one form or another, are here to stay. So, let’s see what we can do to make them less annoying and more useful than they often are.

Some Statistics

Studies find that 71% of meetings are considered unproductive, costing $37 billion per year to American business.

Other statistics from this same article in Zippia include:

  • 55 million meetings per week in the U.S., 11 million per week, 1 billion per year
  • 65% of employees agree meetings prevent work completion
  • 41% multitask during meeting
  • 9% increase in number of meetings 2020 to 2021
  • 91% daydream during meeting
  • 55% think meeting could have been an email
  • 1% decrease in length of meetings 2020 to 2021
  • 5% increase in number of attendees 2020 to 2021

It is very good news that meetings are getting shorter. As per an earlier post, studies have found that less than 2% of conversations end at a point when both people want them to, and only about 10% of the time did both people wish the conversation had lasted longer.

Less is more, both in length of meetings, and in number of attendees too.

The Solution

Zippia has some great advice:

The ideal meeting length is about 15 minutes. Studies show that in meetings that are no longer than 15 minutes, 91% of attendees are paying attention. This number steadily declines until it reaches only 64% in meetings over 45 minutes….You improve work meetings by determining the reason for the meeting beforehand, setting and distributing an agenda before the meeting, and limiting the meeting attendees to 10, maximum. As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says, “if you need more than two pizzas to feed everybody, there are too many people.”

To this, I would add that this whole thing is a TBD work-in-progress. Some of it may seem…well stupid, as we are trying to figure out where to from here in the best possible ways.

But my rather sophisticated 5-year-old granddaughter (aren’t they all) counsels me that it is not appropriate ever to use the word “stupid.” I asked and she said that, no, it is not okay, even if it’s not about people, only ideas.

Alas, she is right, of course. None of us has ever been here before and, although we tend to expect our leaders to know what they’re doing, the truth is that they have never been here before either.

So, in the meantime, while we are all figuring this out, for any who may be scheduling meetings, or able to input to those who are — fewer minutes and fewer people — seems worth a real try.

And, if you do try it, please let us know what you find.

To talk more about this, or something else, please do not hesitate to contact me at

Warm wishes,


Photo by Mart Productions from Pexels



Madelaine Weiss

Licensed Psychotherapist, Board Certified Executive, Career, Life Coach. LICSW, MBA, BCC