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Meeting FOMO? Is That Really a Thing?

“Fear of missing out” - FOMO - is as real in the workplace as it is in our social lives. Does professional FOMO affect you or your office? Answer these questions to find out:

  • Do you want to be included in every conversation or decision at work?

  • If you walk past a room and colleagues are meeting without you, do you wonder what they’re talking about or feel frustrated you weren’t invited to the conversation?

  • Do you frequently refresh your email inbox?

  • Do you check your office chat apps several times an hour?

  • Do you spend a lot of time in meetings you don’t really need to attend?

  • Does your organization rally people into meetings more often than necessary?

If you answered “Yes” to two or more of these questions, you or your team are likely experiencing some level of FOMO.

What is FOMO and How Does it Affect Your Work Life?

The Oxford Dictionaries online defines fear of missing out as,

“Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.”

The concept originated early this century alongside the rise of social media, which opened windows into lives everywhere. FOMO is also the subject of at least three studies, establishing it as a concrete psychological phenomenon in the Age of Information. The popular podcast Note to Self even dedicated an entire episode to it.

FOMO in the workplace can occur when people are worried about the meetings they’re not attending. This kind of fear of missing out scatters our focus, hinders productivity, and sabotages time and energy.

Here we address four ways that the FOMO mentality creates misconceptions related to meetings as well as tips to tame the FOMO beast.

4 Misconceptions about Meeting FOMO

#1. Leaving people out is the wrong thing to do.

What this sounds like:

“I have to invite everybody to the meeting so no one feels left out.”

If people don’t understand why they are invited to a meeting or how they can contribute, you're just wasting their time. In fact, less is more; by inviting only the few critical participants who can help achieve the meeting objective, meetings are faster and more productive.

How to tame:

  • Establish agreed-upon criteria for meetings up front. Whose presence is required at which types of meetings? Who does not need to attend the meeting in person, but should be informed about the meeting results after? Make the ground rules clear so no one worries about who is or isn’t invited.

  • If your organization is not ready to be selective about meeting participants, start by adding people as “Optional,” and let them decide whether they need to be a part of the conversation. Over time, the company culture will hopefully become more accepting of voluntary meeting participation.

#2. Meeting attendance is directly proportional to an employee’s value.

What this sounds like:

“If I’m not invited to the meeting that means I’m not important.”

Judging your worth based on how many meetings you attend is an outdated mode of thinking. If you’re attending a meeting but don’t have anything valuable to contribute, you should be spending your time elsewhere. Valuable participation is defined by what you add to a conversation, not where you sit. If your concern is that your opinion doesn’t count or that you won’t be informed about decisions that impact your workload, there are other ways to disseminate information.

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How to tame:

  • Share input before the meeting with the organizer by email or an online collaboration tool like Meeteor or Google Docs. After the meeting, share the meeting notes in a useful summary so everyone stays informed. People learn that physical presence is not the only way to be involved in discussions.

#3. A “can-do” work attitude means attending every meeting one is invited to.

What this sounds like:

“I have to say yes to every meeting I’m invited to otherwise I’m not doing my job well.”

We are often hesitant to miss a meeting because we think we might miss something that is related to our work. Even if we’re not sure why we need to attend or what we can contribute, we plan to figure it out when we get there. The truth is if you don’t know why you're in a meeting, you probably can’t contribute much and your presence is likely not necessary.

How to tame:

  • If you don’t know why you’re invited, ask. Reach out to the meeting organizer in advance of the meeting to find out what they need from you and what value they want you to bring to the table. If you're the meeting organizer, develop a culture where team members feel free to question their participation.

#4. We were told to meet every week so we just have to do it.

What this sounds like at the start of a meeting:

“Who has something we need to talk about today?”

Does your team meet just because it's on the calendar even if there's nothing to discuss? If you feel this way, others on your team probably do, too. Sometimes people assume others want to meet, but meeting is not always helpful or necessary. It's OK to question routine when it doesn't serve a purpose.

How to tame:

  • Use an agenda to determine whether the meeting is needed or to end the meeting early if everything has been covered. If there’s nothing pressing, cancel the meeting so people can use the time to do other work.

So, What Now?

It starts with you.

Look at your calendar and prioritize your meetings. Ask yourself, “Do I need to attend this meeting?” and, “What would I miss if I didn’t attend?” Then, “What would I accomplish if I used the time for something else?”

Workplace FOMO is a choice that you make every work day. You can make the choice to let go of this fear, just as much as you’ve allowed it to creep into your mindset. It’s simply a change of perspective. You can also apply this thinking to other areas of your life that FOMO affects.

When you’re ready, share the joy of missing out with others.

If you’re noticing that the FOMO phenomenon is impacting your team’s productivity and energy level, it’s time to change. Examine meeting waste and costs with colleagues, leaders, and supervisors, and get your team to buy into a better solution.

Have you or your organization been affected by FOMO? How? What have you done about it? We’d love to learn more.



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