Perspective | Stop Wasting Time with Meetings and Other Forms of Idle Chatter; Automation in Insurance Can Lead to Better Efficiency

By: | December 12, 2019

Roger Crombie is a United Kingdom-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at [email protected]

More than a century has passed since we discovered that business requires efficiency. Recent reports suggest, however, that most ‘work,’ far from being efficient, is a waste of time.

Harrington Emerson, an engineer, came up with the idea early in the 20th century of “an organic organization where efficiency was a natural occurrence, not an imposed set of targets and procedures.”


Emerson’s thinking, a precursor to total quality management, led to the rise of the Efficiency Movement, which stood for best practice and improvements at all levels of society. Frederick W. Taylor enlarged Emerson’s beliefs; their efforts are now referred to as Taylorism.

Taylor learned that, where repetitive work is concerned, most people will do the absolute minimum required to avoid punishment. It’s still true: 50 % of all online package deliveries, for example, are problematic, because, if you set unreasonable targets, delivery agents don’t even try.

Much insurance work is repetitive, if not quite to the extent that factory work can be, and therefore encourages time-wasting. Insurers are accordingly moving to automate as many of the lower-end functions as possible.

Most employees surveyed admitted to daydreaming during meetings. A quarter said they’d fallen asleep during meetings. Ten percent spend a big chunk of their meetings checking emails.

What single activity would you say is the biggest time-waster at work?

The office bore, droning on about last night’s TV show that you didn’t watch? Email? Smoking breaks? All waste time, but the supreme time-waster is the meeting.

A report commissioned this fall by a design company laid it all out. Nearly a million British employees spend more than half their working week in meetings. A third of the time spent in those meetings is wasted. The largest single cause, the report said, is waiting for people to turn up so that the meeting can begin. The second largest is time spent setting up the required technology. Finding the meeting room and choosing where to sit also eat up time.

Most employees surveyed admitted to daydreaming during meetings. A quarter said they’d fallen asleep during meetings. Ten percent spend a big chunk of their meetings checking emails.

The greatest irritants to those attending meetings are reportedly people talking over each other, a lack of chairs (!), and the use of jargon.


In Britain people work less than they once did. In the 19th century, it was six days out of seven. Now, it’s 36 hours a week. Of that, apparently, as much as half is wasted. The average productive British work week is therefore just 18 hours. Taylor must be concocting more efficient ways to spin in his grave.

Separately, a team from the University of Malmo has concluded that work meetings are “largely pointless.” Professor Patrik Hall told the BBC that “many managers are unsure of their role and organize meetings to give the impression they are achieving something.” The Prof concluded that meetings can be therapeutic, if nothing else.

No amount of Taylors or Emersons will change the importance managers place on meetings. How can anyone tell if you’re a good manager, unless they see you managing?

With its automated functions, the insurance industry might be leading the way to a meeting-free future. If so, human nature dictates that new techniques will be developed to ensure that as little work as possible gets done. It’s who we are. &

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]