Meeting Recovery Syndrome: What It Is and How to Combat It

Meeting Recovery Syndrome: What It Is and How to Combat It

Have you ever attended a meeting that was so ineffective that you just had to tell someone about it and take half an hour or more to mentally recover? If so, you have experienced meeting recovery syndrome (MRS).

When meetings take up a significant amount of time and cover important topics, they mustn't be highly ineffective to the point where employees feel upset and their productivity is damaged.

Meeting Recovery Syndrome Defined

Meeting recovery syndrome is defined by Smart HR as “the mental and physical exhaustion one feels after spending too much time participating in video or in-person meetings.” Although MRS can occur after a typical meeting, it is most common and disruptive for people who attend unproductive and inefficient meetings. Those who experience meeting recovery syndrome need to take a significant amount of time to gather their thoughts and process disappointing meetings, often by discussing them with colleagues.

MRS symptoms

A meeting deemed as “bad” tends to stay with employees for hours after the meeting has ended. In this time following the ineffective meeting, employees feel negative effects that shape what we know as meeting recovery syndrome. While some people feel different things after poor meetings and some recover in different ways, some of the most common “symptoms” of MRS are the following.

  • Stress. When leaving a meeting that did not go well, participants can feel stressed about what was not accomplished during the meeting, how they are meant to move forward after the negative experience, how much of their time might have been wasted, and how they will make that time up and accomplish all of their tasks.
  • Lag time getting back on track. According to a recent study, the effects of a bad meeting can linger for up to hours as participants struggle to properly reset after becoming exhausted from the meeting
  • Low productivity and low output. During this time when employees are attempting to refocus, they experience low productivity thus producing very little output.
  • Low energy. Meeting participants can be left physically and mentally drained after a difficult meeting. This makes employees move slower and perform at a lower level due to a new level of mental exhaustion.
  • Low engagement. The last thing participants want to do after experiencing a bad meeting is lock in and become engaged in a task. This recovery time after a meeting makes it extremely difficult for employees to feel motivated to accomplish their work because they do not feel fully supported, appreciated, inspired, or respected after a meeting fails to fulfill these needs. 
  • Low morale. As word circulates through the team about how difficult the meeting was, the energy of the entire workplace is affected. Team members do not work as well together, they do not feel as welcome to bring issues to superiors, and collaboration and innovation decrease.

Causes of Meeting Recovery Syndrome

Meeting recovery syndrome is often accompanied by “meeting bloat” which encompasses the uncomfortable feeling and unnecessary fatigue that occurs when more people continue to get added to the meeting when it is not necessary.

Parkinson’s Law, which is the idea that “work tends to expand to fill whatever time is allotted to it” also tends to be a prerequisite to meeting recovery syndrome. Therefore, long durations with sparse agendas make for ineffective meetings that leave employees with MRS.

According to Smart HR, only 30% of meetings are productive, meaning 70% run the risk of leaving attendees with MRS. Unproductive meetings can make attendees feel as though their time is not valued which leads them to lose faith in the integrity of future meetings.

Poorly planned meetings and lax meeting agendas are huge causes of MRS as Parkinson’s Law can thrive and employees disengage with the limited content they are provided. 

Meeting recovery syndrome is also particularly common for those who attend back-to-back meetings with little or no time to reset and process in between.

Lastly, when meeting facilitators do not allow time during meetings for collaboration, MRS can creep in. Colleagues must problem-solve, discuss, and support each other in meetings so that they feel progress has been made when the conference comes to an end.

Virtual Meeting Fatigue

We can’t talk about meeting recovery syndrome without addressing virtual meeting fatigue, or “Zoom fatigue.” 

Virtual meeting fatigue describes the tiredness professionals feel when they regularly attend online work meetings. Compared to meetings held through other communication media, video conference meetings are the most exhausting. Virtual meetings can take quite a toll on employees, leaving them feeling both mentally and physically drained.

Professor Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab, explains the phenomenon well as he discusses how we have taken the natural human conversation and made it into something that requires much more thought. “You’ve got to make sure that your head is framed within the center of the video. If you want to show someone that you are agreeing with them, you have to do an exaggerated nod or put your thumbs up. That adds cognitive load as you’re using mental calories in order to communicate.”

Because online meetings require more visual processing and attendees deal with much more stimuli, they can be particularly draining compared to in-person meetings. Attendees often feel pressured to fill silence, connect with everyone on screen, and balance staying engaged with taking notes. 

Some people can feel that virtual meetings are invasive, thus causing further discomfort for attendees.

Professionals on virtual calls must also work harder to process and understand non-verbal cues and social cues from colleagues and make meaningful connections without being physically together.

Women and introverts tend to be more affected by Zoom fatigue than men and extroverts. Women have more “self-focused attention,” meaning they are more concerned about how they are perceived during a meeting. This means women in online meetings juggle attempting to be perceived positively, listening, speaking, and participating.

Virtual Meeting Fatigue Cures

Curing virtual meeting fatigue can be difficult as it is almost impossible to avoid virtual meetings when an organization has remote or hybrid positions. However, managers and meeting facilitators can help lessen fatigue by applying the following:

Pair down meetings and focus on perfecting the ones you keep. Consider eliminating any ineffective meetings or meetings that can be replaced with an email, phone call, or casual online messaging. The time and preparation poured into the ineffective meetings can then be utilized to make the necessary meetings engaging, quick, and concise. A thorough agenda that includes only necessary topics is crucial to a fluid meeting.

Be strict about time. Follow time stamps on your agenda closely and make an active effort to end meetings on time or early. Respecting workers’ time is crucial for employees to have positive feelings about meetings and feel less fatigued in the end.

To combat the excessive stimuli, limit what you can. This might mean asking everyone to stay on mute whenever they’re not speaking, using features like emojis, the chat and hand raises to participate, and even hosting the occasional “camera off” meeting to give employees a break from feeling like they must look the part and interpret body language and social cues.

Don’t neglect breaks, even if time is tight. The reality is that employees need the five-minute break more than they need a bit of information that is optional and can be communicated later or in a follow-up email. Giving employees the time to look away from their screens, stretch or get a refreshment makes all the difference in rejuvenating members and slowing fatigue. Facilitators can build in breaks by scheduling them in agendas or, if time is tight, giving the team the option to either take a quick break or tackle a less important topic.

Continuously switch activities. A study discovered that activity switching is an effective technique in combating online meeting fatigue. Therefore, keep your team engaged by formulating an agenda that engages employees in different ways. Switch between presentations, icebreakers, videos, polls, discussions, etc. Including multi-media in your meetings gives your team a better chance of genuinely enjoying the meeting and staying engaged and interested in the content.

Group discussions. Online small groups also combat virtual meeting fatigue. Meeting facilitators can encourage discussion and team bonding by breaking the team into smaller groups for discussion and brainstorming during the meeting. This gives employees a break from listening and engaging with many people and allows them to talk in a more casual setting with colleagues who might not get much opportunity for collaboration if working from home.

How to Combat Meeting Recovery Syndrome

Many of the virtual meeting cures can also be implemented for in-person meetings in an attempt to eliminate MRS. However, to properly combat meeting recovery syndrome, both managers or meeting facilitators and employees must adjust their routines and processes. 

Managers & meeting facilitators

  • Determine the necessity of each meeting before preparing and scheduling. Can the meeting better serve employees if conducted differently, such as over email or via a phone call? If it’s not necessary, great - tackle another way to disseminate information or have a discussion. If it is necessary, invest an appropriate amount of time into preparing a thorough agenda and schedule the shortest meeting you can to cover the agenda. 

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  • Lead discussions rather than talk for the entirety. When a lot of information needs to be relayed, meeting facilitators can spend almost the entire meeting talking rather than including and engaging meeting participants. Facilitators should allow adequate time for discussion for a better employee experience.
  • Understand the cost of meetings and keep participants at a minimum. Because each participant is sacrificing time to attend the meeting, it is important to calculate the cost of each person being in attendance. If someone is not integral to the conversation, do not send them a meeting invite or make attendance optional.
  • Be aware of back-to-back meetings. Whenever possible, do not schedule meetings with employees who are attending another meeting right before or shortly after the meeting. If this issue is unavoidable, be sure to include extra breaks in the meeting so that participants can properly process and reset between meetings.


  • Make an effort to participate and ask questions. Meeting facilitators can only engage employees so much before employees have to take control of their own engagement. Make meetings count by becoming interested in the material, asking questions, and participating when you can. This will make the meeting feel “worth it” and colleagues will feel more welcome to collaborate.
  • Provide feedback. Meeting facilitators need to know how meetings can be improved so that the employee experience can be improved. If meetings are lacking in an aspect such as interaction, visual elements, or activity switching, let your managers know. Not only will you benefit and experience less fatigue, but your team will be stronger and more productive as a result.
  • Set boundaries for meeting scheduling. Create a standard for meetings that facilitators can be advised to follow. Standards such as required breaks or no two meetings ending and beginning within the same hour can make all the difference in successfully avoiding MRS. Also, be curious and ask facilitators if you are needed in the meeting if you feel that the topics do not pertain to you or if other tasks might take precedence.


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