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No. 57 – Are meetings just a big waste of time?

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27 April 2022

Meetings seem to me to be a waste of time. We turn up, talk about the same things, go away and then have another meeting. I hate listening to people waffle on about what they are doing when I have a long list of things I need to finish myself. We had more meetings than ever during COVID and, now that we are going back to the office, it has continued. How can I tactfully tell my boss that I would get more done if I was able to just finish my work rather than keep turning up to something that adds no value?

Your letter will be highly relevant to everyone. Most of us dread meetings and we’ve all been in meetings that feel like a complete waste of time. Some workplaces seem locked into a vicious cycle of needing a meeting to decide even the most simple issue and proceed to fill entire calendars, leaving very little room for “real” work during regular working hours. It sounds like your workplace needs a collective cull of meetings.

If you speak to your boss about it, you may find they feel the same way as you. Ask your boss whether, as a team, you can go through the regularly scheduled meetings and decide which are serving no real purpose and can go. There are sure to be some meetings that are just updates and can be done asynchronously. Then identify the meetings that are critical and make sure there is an agreed agenda, a clear chair of the meeting and strictly stick to the timings. Keeping meetings on time and on purpose will help those meetings that do survive the cull feel like they are adding value and not sucking the life from you.

I work in IT for a large government organisation and our workload has increased significantly over the last year. There is a team member who has produced minimal to no work over the last four years and has alienated themselves from most people in the team to the point where no one works with them at all. They don’t contribute to the team, rarely join meetings and never answer emails, including from the team manager. Our manager is aware but seems to prefer to micromanage my work instead of the difficult task of managing an underperformer. I’m told that HR is involved but nothing has changed. I have raised this issue many times and have even logged a workplace grievance. The situation is frustrating and I’m at a loss as to what to do since I like my job and don’t want to leave.

This may be a tough pill to swallow but I think you need to let this go. It’s easy to get caught up in ideas of fairness, especially where you perceive someone is getting away with not working as hard as you. That may be the case but there may also be facts about this other person you are not aware of. If you have raised your concerns with HR, with your managers and even lodged a formal complaint, then your organisation clearly knows what is going on from your perspective. Just because you don’t see any visible change doesn’t mean there isn’t a whole range of personal or professional issues happening for your co-worker behind the scenes. As frustrating as it might be, I would encourage you to redirect your focus. It sounds like you’re dedicated to your job and want to do well so I recommend you invest your energy there instead of in what others are doing.

I want to bring attention to another form of wage theft: lack of rest breaks. I secured a casual job in retail where I had to stand for the entire shift. I did six-hour shifts while others did up to 10-hour shifts. According to Fair Work, I was entitled to an additional 10-minute rest break. Others were entitled to two or more. But other than one meal break, no one was given a rest break at all. On my fourth shift, I took my 10-minute break and the next day I was told my services were no longer needed. This is another example of businesses breaking the law to squeeze every last drop out of workers. Shouldn’t someone be policing this?

You have every right to a rest break and your employer can receive significant penalties for failing to provide one. If you belong to a union, ask their advice on what they do to support members in these situations. Otherwise, contact Fair Work Australia for information on steps you can take.

The wider issue is one for employers, especially in such a tight labour market. It seems counter-productive to lose an employee over a 10-minute rest break. The cost to recruit a replacement far outweighs the 10-minute rest time. Ethical employers value their staff and care about their wellbeing. It makes good business sense to ensure they look after the people they employ and if that doesn’t motivate them, then they should consider the reputational risk if workers decide to go public.

Send your questions about work, careers and leadership to Your name and any identifying information will not be used. Letters may be edited.

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