After enduring endless virtual meetings over the past year, many employees are unsurprisingly complaining about “zoom fatigue.” Video conferencing can be exhausting. If you have to stay in the gaze of the camera, the limbs are stiff and the bottoms hurt. Looking at your own face on the screen can be bad for your self-esteem. And trying to communicate without all the usual visual cues (not least because of time delays) adds to the “cognitive load” for already stressed employees.
New research suggests the condition is more common in women than men. A team of researchers led by Géraldine Fauville of the University of Gothenburg questioned about 10,500 people about their experiences with video conferencing during the pandemic. Using their own Zoom Exhaustion and Fatigue (ZEF) scale, which rates exhaustion on a variety of measures, the researchers found that about 14% of the women in their sample reported feeling very to extremely fatigued, compared to less than 6% of the men.
This could be because women work differently online. The researchers found that although women reported having about the same number of meetings per day as men, their meetings were usually longer and had shorter breaks in between (perhaps because of the type of work they do or other responsibilities, such as childcare). It makes sense for women to stare at a screen for extended periods without a break, squint more. The pressure to maintain a certain appearance can also weigh more heavily on women, who are more likely to struggle with body image. After analyzing the responses to the survey, the researchers found that staring at one’s own image for a long time had a particularly negative effect on women.
Women aren’t the only ones who suffer disproportionately from the misery of video conferencing. Younger people also reported higher levels of fatigue, as did non-white workers and those who described themselves as more introverted.
Employers will want to keep all this in mind as offices reopen and some people continue to work remotely some of the time. The evidence points to a few simple fixes for Zoom fatigue: Use audio calls only when possible, check colleagues to see how they’re doing and, once you’ve got your hair fixed and the spinach out of your teeth, put from the self-vision function.