The Worst Office Meetings

Now that we've all had a couple years to adjust to the frugal new realities of the recessionary workplace, you'd think the unproductive practice of meeting for meeting's sake would have subsided.

Sadly, aimless assemblages still top many an office agenda.

In 2005, a survey of 38,000 workers in 200 countries found that 69 percent felt the six hours of meetings they attended a week were anything but productive.

I doubt little has changed in the intervening five years. Don't believe it? Ask 10 of your employed friends to recall the last time they suffered through a time-sucking, soul-quashing, mind-numbingly dysfunctional meeting. I guarantee most of them will say, "Yesterday."

Sure, there are unsung innovators who, in the interest of working smarter, have learned to kick time-killing confabs to the curb. And management consulting superstars Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson have built a career on teaching companies to adopt their balance-minded brand of corporate culture, known as ROWE, or Results-Only Work Environment, which nixes cubicles, office hours and, yes, even mandatory meetings.

Still, I had little trouble finding workers who said their conference rooms continue to brim with bleary-eyed meeting attendees who have no idea why their presence was requested, let alone what the heck the speaker is gassing on about and how it relates to the projects on their plate.

How bad is our nation's meetingitis? Check out these stories:

Just Say 'Om'

For "Tina," a marketing professional who worked at a manufacturing firm in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., the straw that broke the meeting camel's back came last year. (For obvious reasons, Tina didn't want her real name used.)

Apparently, the executive leading the company's Monday morning staff meetings mistook the conference room for a New Age meditation retreat:

"The CEO was a self-help, Anthony-Robbins-loving nut. The two-hour, mandatory Monday morning meetings were 30 minutes of business-related topics and 90 minutes of chanting, positive-reinforcement-quote-reading madness. It was like a cult. We had to close our eyes and chant whatever the CEO was saying -- long passages about loving ourselves, seeing our inner light and never saying 'no.'

"Not one person in the room felt anything positive. Absenteeism on Mondays rose to 50 percent after a few weeks. I left the company after six months when it became apparent that the Monday morning meetings were going to be the best thing that happened to me all week. It was nuts. I have never seen anything like it and I hope I never do again."

Death by Catchphrase

Sometimes veering wildly off-topic isn't the trouble with meeting leaders -- stringing together a coherent, jargon-free sentence is.

Anthony Adams, a former software salesman in Dallas, shared this tale of buzzword-riddled slideshow woe:

"While we had soul-crushing, death-by-PowerPoint meetings on an almost daily basis, I was subjected to a week of them in mid-2008 at a 'sales rally' at a hotel nearby with about 500 other employees. It was the worst experience of my working life, just inane buzzwords from one speaker after the next, talking about leveraging existing resources and viewing developing opportunities from a 20,000-foot view and monetizing low-hanging fruit.

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