How To Reclaim Thousands Of Wasted Hours Each Year

A recent article in Harvard Business Review found one weekly meeting at a large company ate up 300,000 hours of employee time each year. How does your company stack up?

How To Reclaim Thousands Of Wasted Hours Each Year
[Image: Flickr user David Blackwell.]

Weekly meetings. You might have one, two, or more, and not really think too much about them. An hour here, two hours there, it’s the cost of doing business, right?


Not so, says a group of partners from Bain & Company, a Massachusetts-based management consulting firm. Those meetings can really add up.

Michael Mankins, Chris Brahm, and Gregory Caimi studied the “time budgets” of 17 large companies, and the results were surprising. For example, after reviewing Outlook calendars for all employees of one large company, they found 300,000 employee hours per year were spent in support of a weekly executive committee meeting. (The unnamed company’s structure provided for multiple meetings at various levels to share information and report on the business.)

“Most companies have elaborate procedures for managing capital,” the trio wrote in the May issue of the Harvard Business Review. “An organization’s time, in contrast, goes largely unmanaged.” With the cost of videoconferencing and other electronic communication tools decreasing, the number of invitations and meeting requests has increased. Mankins says 15% of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings, and has increased each year since 2008.

So what can you do if you find your company going down this path? Here are four questions organizations should ask to identify and assess potential time management problems:

1. Are you using people’s talents in the best way?

A company may have great people, but if the company’s not maximizing their talents, it can minimize their effectiveness and output, Mankins writes. In a January 2013 HBR article, Mankins and two co-authors noted that organizations need to know where their employees’ strengths lie, what they do, and how those strengths are transferrable. The process is a continuing one, with the company constantly evaluating staff and how their talents can be used in the best way.

2. Does your organizational structure interfere with employee’s job performance?

How is the company structured? Are there layers of management between the CEO and frontline employees? If so, this may slow the flow of communication and decision-making. More supervisors mean more cost in terms of meetings scheduled, preparation time, etc. The authors suggest simplifying and streamlining operations to free up time.


3. How do people communicate with each other?

Take a look at how your company communicates, and weigh the time it takes against what actually gets done. “Time is an organization’s scarcest–and most often squandered–resource,” the authors note. Is there a purpose for each meeting? Are there restrictions in place for who can call a meeting? (The authors found that most companies relegate this function to low-level employees.)

For example, when a large manufacturing company realized a regular 90-minute meeting of managers cost the company more than $15 million a year, its leadership discovered an administrative assistant had scheduled the meetings and the team just attended. “In effect, a junior VP’s administrative assistant was permitted to invest $15 million without supervisor approval. No such thing would ever happen with the company’s financial capital,” the authors note.

4. Are your employees inspired to do their best work?

How engaged are your employees? Are they inspired to perform well? Evaluate your team to make sure everyone’s on the same page and ensure nobody’s wasting your organization’s time, Mankins writes.

Hat tip: Harvard Business Review

About the author

Lindsay LaVine is a Chicago-based business and lifestyle freelance writer who's worked for NBC and CNN. Her work has appeared online in,,, NBC News, MSNBC, Yahoo, Business Insider, and Fox Business.