Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Meetings are the Worst

Arela Simerson
3 min readJan 24, 2024

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Personally, most meetings are a one-way track to burnout. As an autistic person, I find it challenging to process linear details, like project instructions aurally. I do best processing things visually and almost always prefer receiving information in a written format. When I need to collect information from a speaker, I miss things. To try to make it ok, I need to keep meticulous meeting notes or turn on closed captions, and then transfer those notes into a work format that functions best for me.

Adding on to this, the input coming at me not only from the words of the speaker, but also the space, the movement, the light, and the sounds, are all overwhelming for my brain. My neuro-crossing doesn’t allow me to narrow down to the speaker’s words to parse them well. Topping it all off, I have to mask, to create a social environment that doesn’t get me fired. This all is a huge amount of emotional, mental, and physical labor. I finish 4 out of 5 meetings with a headache.

One thing that neurodivergent folks bring to society is our ability to more acutely notice when things are not working well. Temple Grandin’s work is a great example of our ability to “think outside the box”. Meetings fall into this category perfectly.

Meeting culture needs to change; it’s been dysfunctional in every single organization I’ve been a part of. There are many areas of dysfunctional meeting culture to address, but I’ll narrow in on two things; using meetings as project management and using meetings as “bonding” time.

Picture this; at your department meeting, the chair, usually a person from senior management, has each person go around and talk about where they’re at in their work. The usual reasoning for this is “accountability” and “information sharing”.

Both of these are quickly, easily, and better managed via tooling. There are countless tools to help teams track their progress, and allow for digital collaboration and updates at the click of a button. Many of these tools are very inexpensive and the cost is recouped by just the time your employees use in preparing for a meeting.

Project management and other software tools reduce misunderstandings, clarify goals, keep us on track, and reduce the tendency for micromanagement. This is a win for all folks in an organization. So why not drop that project management meeting?

The usual pushback from management is typically because they want to have “bonding” time with each other as a team.

Again, why? Who are you looking to serve with this? Regardless of your neurology, we all have different ways we like to connect with others. Often this random colleague meeting/chat is misguided, forced socializing, and discriminatory.

Many employers link promotions, choice projects, and work performance with how well we socialize at work according to western neurotypical norms. This directly disadvantages many people and contributes to further workplace discrimination. So when we don’t engage in the expected way of socializing at work, either by choice or not, we miss out on career advancements and equal opportunities.

Employers who are truly creating equity and diversity at work ensure non-mandatory accessible work activities during work hours with pay. Healthy and inclusive work cultures allow employees to socialize and bond through the ways that work for them and do not penalize those who can’t or choose not to.

Employers who are truly creating a workplace to support their employees and avoid burnout, address their dysfunctional meeting culture. They bring in tools and resources to help employees work their best and prioritize employees taking the time to make project management work for them.

As staff, we deserve a healthy workplace, regardless of our needs, and organizations need to step up to make that happen. Start asking for these changes today.

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