Ask an employee of any company – large or small – what their biggest time sink is, and they will tell you how many meetings they have. In the US alone, there are billions of meetings a year. Yet more than a third of that meeting time is considered wasted by attendees. Given that level of impact on the workforce, it is surprisingly difficult to pin down how many meetings there actually are in the US every day. Unfortunately, the commonly quoted metrics on meetings are outdated. The most widely cited quantification of meetings was published by Michael Doyle and David Strauss over 40 years ago. Doyle and Strauss claimed that there were 11 million meetings a day, and that number has been published dozens of times without a rigorous evaluation of the growing workforce, virtualization of the workforce, and advent of the last 4 decades of technological and cultural progress. It is clear that we need an updated number but perhaps even more important is that we need a transparent methodology that will allow us to stay up to date.
In order to begin to estimate the number of meetings held each day in the US, we need to first answer the following 4 questions:
- Question 1: How many workers are there in the US?
- Question 2: What percent of these workers are in jobs that regularly have meetings?
- Question 3: What is the % of time on average that these workers spend in meetings?
- Question 4: What is the de-duped number of daily meetings in the US (a meeting count overstates the number because each meeting by definition has multiple participants)?
Question 1: How many workers are there in the US?:
Answer: 159,716,000 workers in the US as of January 2017
How do we know?: This one is simple. The most recently published US Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported this number as 159,716,000.
Question 2: What percent of these workers are in jobs that regularly have meetings?
Answer: 55% of the workforce in the US has a job that regularly has meetings. We call this number, the “% for meetings”.
How do we know?: This percentage takes a bit more digging. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes a breakout of Employment by Detailed Occupation. From there, you can start to eliminate categories that are unlikely to have meetings. Out of 25 occupations, we outright eliminated 10 occupations that account for 45% of the labor force. For instance, we completely eliminated occupations such as ‘healthcare practitioners,’ ‘protective service occupations,’ ‘food preparation and serving related occupations,’ ‘farming, fishing, and forestry occupations,’ etc. While it is clear that people in these industries have meetings, we eliminated them wholesale to be conservative. When we eliminate that population, we are left with 55% of the labor force which is eligible to have meetings. This translates into 87.8M meeting-eligible workers in 2017.
Question 3: What is the % of time on average that these workers spend in meetings?
Answer: 1.6 meetings per day per meeting-eligible worker
How do we know?: Ovum research published a study across 3,926 full-time employees across 19 international markets, from all major industry categories (the research was conducted for Join.me). They concluded that for these employees – 1.6 meetings per day was the average. The figure below shows the weekly number of 8 meetings over a 5 day work week.
Question 4: What is the de-duped number of daily meetings in the US (a meeting count overstates the number because each meeting by definition has multiple participants)?
Answer: Answer: weighted-average-people-per-meeting (low) = 3.1, (high) = 7
How do we know?: Given 1.6 meetings per day for 87.8M eligible employees a year, we now have 140M meetings a day. This, however, is a duplicated number because many people are in those same meetings. So the question is, what is the weighted average number of people per meeting? To do this we need a distribution of meetings. Unfortunately, most of the literature shows that there is no typical meeting and different studies show different conclusions. One paper by Panko published the following very useful distribution: Panko, R.R., and Kinney, S. T. Meeting profiles: Size, duration, and locations, in Proceedings of Proceedings of the twenty-eight Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Maui, HI, 1995, 1002-1011.
Table 2: Percent of meetings that occur by the size of the meetings according to Panko (for example, 65% of meetings are 1:1s with just two people).
This study produces a weighted average number of attendees per meeting of 3.1. This will be our low estimate of the number of attendees. Xerox published another study which estimated that the average meeting has seven participants. It is not clear if this Xerox number takes into account the distribution of meetings in the same way that the Panko research does. This will be our high estimate of the number of attendees.
Plugging it all in:
If we plug the low and high numbers into our equation we get the following:
(working-population * percent-eligible-for-meetings * meetings-per-day-per-eligible-worker) / weighted-average-people-per-meeting
Assuming Panko’s smaller weighted average (Avg of 3.1 people per meeting), we get 46M small meetings a day.
(159,716,000 * 55% * 1.66) / 3.1 = 46M
Assuming Xerox’s larger average (Avg. of 7 people per meeting) we get 20M larger meetings a day.
(159,716,000 * 55% * 1.66) / 7 = 20M
The average of the two techniques produces a range of [Hi: 55M, Low: 20M] which puts the average at 33M meetings a day. There are 260 work days in 2017. This, in turn, translates to 9B meetings a year in the US alone. When you consider the average cost of a meeting (estimates range from $300 to a $1000 per meeting), the economic cost of meetings is in the trillions of dollars.
 In 1976 Michael Doyle and David Strauss published “How to Make Meetings Work!”
 Kayser, T.A. Mining group gold: how to cash in on the collaborative brain power of a group. 3rd ed. Chicago, IL; Irwin. 2010