Email Has Its Place – but Managers Don’t Think That Place Is a Meeting

Email Has Its Place

There are many faux pas giving meetings a bad name. Whether it’s a lack of purpose or discussions running long, one-quarter of employees’ time spent in them is wasted, and one in 10 chief financial officers reported meetings are work’s biggest time-waster. Here are two other contributors to the problem: email and smartphones.

Everyone, it seems, checks email during meetings and their telephone-enabled sidekick, the conference call. But that doesn’t make it a good thing. In a Robert Half Management Resources survey, just 6 percent of managers said it’s perfectly fine to read and respond to emails in meetings.

More than one-third of those interviewed (36 percent) said it’s never OK. And while other respondents’ opinions were more nuanced – some, for example, thought it was acceptable as long as a message is urgent – the fact remains managers generally don’t like it.

A common problem

Challenging this prevailing opinion has drawbacks. For starters, tuning out of a discussion and into email is poor etiquette and shows a lack of respect. Still, the research showed workers commonly turn to their devices during meetings.

“It does seem to be an epidemic, as well as an addiction – constantly checking one’s email and messages on one’s cell phone,” noted Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick, founder and president of The Etiquette School of New York. “Giving our full and undivided attention when we are in a business meeting not only shows respect for the meeting but also for those attending it.”

Lead by example

As a leader in your organization, what can you do if you see staff or other colleagues emailing during meetings? Start by examining your own practices.

“It’s one thing to say it’s unacceptable to check email during meetings; it’s another to model that behavior for your team, including in one-on-one discussions,” said Paul McDonald, senior executive director for Robert Half. “As often as possible, turn off your devices, don’t bring them with you in the first place and close your email during conference calls.”

Following are a few additional tips:

  • Set expectations. For example, tell employees if they should leave their mobile devices at their desks or step out to answer urgent queries.
  • Don’t let people be tempted. Keep participants engaged in the discussion. Otherwise, they’re more likely to become distracted and check email.
  • Determine if there is a bigger problem. Are employees called on for too many meetings? Is a meeting even necessary? Could attendees' workloads be so high their only chance to check email is in meetings? Eradicate any underlying issues.

How do you feel about employees checking email in meetings? Please share your thoughts.

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