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Why work meetings are on the increase

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Work meetings are on the increase, but why? A recently completed research project presents the answers.

Professional life is increasingly organised via meetings. Although the frequency varies between different professions, studies have found that overall meetings are on the increase.  

According to a recently completed research project by researchers at Lund University and Malmö University, whose results are published in a new book, the increase in meetings is primarily due to the fact that society has, in different ways, become more complex and democratic.

The increased degree of democratisation is reflected in the changing role of the manager and the growing importance of establishing employee support prior to a decision. Which leads to more meetings.    

Previously, professional life was more hierarchical and the manager could, to a greater extent, take independent decisions and delegate work duties, according to Malin Åkerström. She is a professor of sociology at Lund University and author of the book Mötesboken - Tolkningar av arbetslivets sammanträden och rosévinsmingel (The Book of Meetings – interpreting professional gatherings and informal receptions) together with the sociologist Vesa Leppänen and Patrik Hall, professor of political science at Malmö University.  

“Democratisation is both formal, in that more professional groups need to be consulted prior to taking a decision, and informal, in that there is an expectation on consensus and codetermination in different groups”, says Malin Åkerström.

At the same time, an increasing degree of complexity has entered professional life. For example, this is reflected by the fact that more organisations are collaborating. In politics, cooperation with subordinate actors is increasingly necessary. Some organisations, such as those in healthcare, have become specialised in clinics so that new subordinate organisations in the form of teams must be created to avoid dulling silo effects.

Coordination problems are solved through meetings, but the issue of who takes the final decision is often unclear in cooperation models, leading to a need for negotiations – which also take place in meetings.

There has been an increase in managers in public administration. In addition, the number of administrators, finance officers, HR officers, communications officers and marketing officers have also increased in both the private and public sectors. In all, people in these professions often work via meetings.  

The increased number of meetings leads to domino effects in the form of even more meetings, or meeting chains. There are morning meetings, planning meetings, walking meetings and pre- and post-meetings, for example.

As meetings have become more common, the criticism has also increased. Many people feel they are a waste of time or flee to emails and social media during meetings. In response to this, a meetings industry has emerged, promising effective, meaningful and entertaining meetings.

Something that has not changed is that meetings are still a power arena. Meetings provide an opportunity for participants to demonstrate their expertise and status in front of other meeting participants.

Simply being invited to meetings is tantamount to being a person in demand and important.  

“People often say ‘I’ve got a meeting’. However, they do not say ‘I am going to speak on the telephone.’”

By Kristina Lindgärde
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