21 Apr Incessant meetings are part of the corporate pantomime
I’ve written before about the pantomime, theatrical nature of Corpo America.
One of the responses to Carly’s post replied that he had a boss who accused him of leaving early each day and when he pointed out that he left at 5pm, which was not “leaving early,” the boss told him that leaving at 5pm sharp was basically the same thing. This too gave me a bad flashback to a job I had in graduate school. I was enrolled in my master’s program full-time and working a full-time job simultaneously. Looking back, I’m not sure how I did it, but I pulled it off. And I had a boss who told me almost the same thing. She informed me that she really thought it was “tacky” that as soon as my shift ended, I quickly packed up my things and left. I reminded her that I often had to go to class after work, but she still wanted to make it clear that, in her opinion, it communicated to everyone else that I didn’t really want to be there. That exchange gave me a keen insight into the pageantry and theater of Corporate America. So much of it is pantomime and play-acting when you boil it down. When Brando said that everyone acts, he was right on target. IMO, I think the pantomime is something that C-Suite execs miss and why they want people to “come on back to the office.” They miss the theater, the play-pretend, the mise-en-scène of work. They don’t have to actively participate in it themselves– they enjoy it vicariously: watch the worker bees file in each morning, make sure they smile and act friendly to management, put them through heinous “team building” exercises that don’t actually foster any loyalty, etc. Just food for thought.
IMO, the digital presenteeism and the “Jesus is coming, look busy” mentality is what these crappy bosses want. Why? Because if you are joining a Zoom meeting that you know will be worthless and you’re jumping through silly hoops online to prove yourself you are being OBEDIENT. . . .
So let’s be clear and direct. Yes, it’s theater. It’s pageantry. It boils down to companies wanting your obedience most of all. If they want you to waste a large chunk of the day looking busy and/or attending meetings that don’t even make sense to your job, that’s what they want and they don’t really care for your opinion on the matter. As Stillman argues – the ones who stick closest to the traditional 9-to-5 routine are the ones who will get ahead in these situations, regardless of whatever the managers said about flexible scheduling and asynchronous work.
Because these managers are playacting, too. They mime the role of feudal lord whilst you had better mime the role of serf.
I would take it a step further and say: if this meeting can be an email, cancel it. If you are having the meeting to stroke your own ego, cancel it. If you are using any cutesy nomenclature around said meeting, e.g., a touchbase, a huddle-up, a check-in, etc., cancel it.
In a recent article, “Dealing With Management Manipulation,” Dr. Stuart Woolley talks about avoiding unnecessary meetings, to which I replied, “This is nearly an oxymoron as so very many meetings are unnecessary.” I’ve had clients who were always behind the 8 ball because they were constantly pulled into meetings and/or trying to set up asinine check-ins. These companies also tend to use the hell out of tools like Slack, Teams, Zoom, etc. It’s purportedly to stay connected but let’s be real. It’s about surveillance, “Jesus is coming, look busy,” and wasting time, IMO.
“What’s more, the rapid growth in demand spurred by the boom in people working from home has ended. Laying off employees is painful and expensive. Once that unpleasant task is done, companies want to get more work done with fewer employees.” -Inc.com, Ibid.
First off, yuck. Secondly, you’re never gonna get jack squat accomplished if you demand people spend half the day in meetings. This is common sense. 🤷🏻♀️
“These videoconferences took so much more time — from February 2020 to February 2022, the average user of Microsoft Teams attended more than twice the number of meetings, and their time spent in meetings more than tripled — that people had to get their actual work done in the evening, noted the Journal.” -Inc.com, Ibid.
BINGO! (said as Gary Oldman in The Professional)
So while you’re tied up during the day with the pantomime of Corpo America and ensuring you are obedient to every video meeting request you receive, you must perform your actual work at night on your own time.
In the Inc.com article, Peter Cohan offers 3 tips: “Know why the meeting has been scheduled. Decide if you can achieve the meeting’s purpose without meeting. Cut the time for essential meetings in half.”
Yeah I mean, you might be surprised the number of huddle-ups and check-ins that get scheduled with zero agenda. “Hey! Just wanted to touch base and see if you need anything from me?” “Nope. Everything is fine.” “Oh… OK.” WHY COULD THIS NOT HAVE BEEN AN EMAIL!?!?
Can you achieve the agenda without a meeting? A vast, vast majority of the time, yes. You can. 100%.
Cutting the time in half may or may not work. Do you know how frustrating it is to spend 30 minutes brushing your hair, putting on make-up, and changing into a dress shirt to be on camera for 5 minutes? And the whole time, you know it’s theatrical. You realize this is all done as part of the pantomime to please management. So a better solution in my mind would be to cancel the meeting altogether. Rather than cutting it in half and making the misery shorter but still inconvenient, trim it from the schedule and move on with your life.