This article was authored by Sheryl Estrada, Senior Reporter at Fortune, and originally published in Fortune CFO Daily.
Employee burnout is real and can be heightened by inefficient work processes. And since hiring and retaining talent remains a top concern for CFOs, some are working toward curbing the stress levels of their team members—by also curbing daily video meetings.
This week, Gina Mastantuono, CFO of the software company ServiceNow, shared a LinkedIn post with her thoughts about research on brain wave activity, which found back-to-back video meetings increase stress levels. “Those of us working in a hybrid model feel it,” Mastantuono writes. “It’s why I changed it up and set some new guidelines for our ServiceNow finance employees.”
“Our Zoom meetings are no longer 30 or 60 minutes,” she writes. “The majority of our meetings in finance now last 20-25 minutes with a five-minute buffer to stretch and take a mental break before the next meeting starts,” Mastantuono writes. “We’ve been at it for the last several months and see a stark difference.”
“We’ve also instituted Friday WIN (What’s Important Now) time,” she explains. “Every Friday from 1-5 p.m. (local time), everyone in finance blocks their calendars and is discouraged from having video meetings. The purpose is an intentional focus. It gives us space to catch up on reading, writing, and whatever is essential to get your job done healthily, without constant interruption.” Mastantuono added, “Listening to your employees’ feedback is pure gold.”
The last time I chatted with Xihao Hu, CFO at TD Bank in the U.S., he shared with me best practices in data storytelling. This time Hu shared his thoughts on making meetings less stressful. “I’ve read several articles and stories recently about companies encouraging employees to cancel all meetings or cut back on their meetings throughout the day,” he told me. “This has definitely sparked my interest and influenced my way of thinking.” As a company, TD has encouraged employees to hold 20-to-25-minute meetings vs. 30-minute time blocks, and “We practice well-being by taking screen breaks or walking meetings,” Hu says.
Regarding employee engagement, TD’s “Training Days,” which include a full day of workshops and panel discussions, “gives employees the flexibility to dive into a variety of interesting topics mapped to their career development or areas of interest,” Hu says. “We block out the calendars well in advance to avoid meeting conflicts on Training Days,” he says.
Hu also told me what he does personally to combat burnout. “As a leader, it’s important that I practice what I preach because everyone needs support from leadership when finding work-life balance,” he explains. “I block ‘me’ time in the calendar where I enjoy spending time with my parents or watching soccer. I also share how I spend my time through open, honest, and frequent communication with my entire team. It starts at the top and creates a positive ripple effect which hopefully helps avoid meeting fatigue.”
I asked Alka Tandan, CFO at tech company Gainsight, her thoughts about video meetings. “We’re very aware that our remote-first workplace can easily lead to virtual meeting fatigue,” Tandan told me. Gainsight makes use of the “speedy meetings” setting in Google Calendar, which “limits meetings to 25 or 50 minutes and helps us avoid back-to-back calls when possible,” she says. Tandan encourages department leaders to identify certain days of the week that are “focus days” where internal departmental meetings are discouraged, she says. “It gives us the time and energy to focus on getting work done and forces us to ask if a meeting is truly necessary to accomplish our goals,” she explains. “We still meet externally with other departments, vendors, or customers.”
“Gainsight has strict rules on weekend emails,” she says. “We ask employees to try and avoid work emails on Saturdays so everyone can take some well-deserved time off.” And in addition to regular unlimited PTO, weekends, and public holidays, employees get an extra day off each month called “Recharge Days.”
Chalk time and meeting management up to yet another line item CFOs are having to become experts at balancing.