NEWS

'Zoom Fatigue' Is Hitting Women the Hardest

A woman with glasses reflected in a computer screen with many Zoom meetings/video conferences open.

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Key Takeaways

  • A new study shows women report feeling more fatigued than men after Zoom meetings—a finding that researchers say can help inform workplace policies.
  • People of color, young employees, and introverts also reported higher levels of Zoom fatigue.
  • Several factors contributing to Zoom exhaustion, including looking at yourself more regularly than you would in face-to-face meetings and feelings of being "trapped" on the screen.

A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, chronicles of "Zoom fatigue" are becoming common. However, a new study has found that women are feeling the most video burnout.

In a new study published on the research network SSRN, researchers at Stanford University found that women reported "Zoom fatigue" more often than men.

Researchers surveyed more than 10,300 participants in the United States between February and March. The team used the Zoom Exhaustion and Fatigue Scale to evaluate the participants' responses.

According to the study's findings, one in seven women reported feeling “very” or “extremely” fatigued after Zoom calls—compared to one in 20 men. The study also showed that while women typically had as many meetings per day as men, they felt more exhausted by them.

“Our research showed that women are more concerned than men about seeing their own image on video conference,” Geraldine Fauville, an assistant professor at the Department of Education, Communication, and Learning at the University of Gothenburg and a co-author of the paper, tells Verywell.

The findings add to evidence of how the pandemic is disproportionately affecting women. The team hopes their work will inform the way employers approach video meetings moving forward.

Jeffrey Hancock

Women are getting harder hit by the pandemics, as are people of color.

— Jeffrey Hancock

“We've moved from checking the mirror whenever we go to the bathroom to having to constantly see ourselves whenever we're talking to another person,” Jeffrey Hancock, a professor of communication in the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University and co-author of the paper, tells Verywell. “It's really salient.”

Why Are Women More Exhausted?

The researchers noted several factors that affect how exhausted someone is after a video conference, including the effect of seeing yourself on screen and dealing with nonverbal cues in a virtual space.

Mirror Anxiety

Fauville says that women found it more exhausting seeing their image on the screen—what's called “self-focused attention” in psychology.

What Is Self-Focused Attention?

Self-focused attention refers to a heightened sense of how you look or act.

“Previous research has shown that people are more likely to be self-aware when seeing a mirror image,” Fauville says, explaining a mirror image includes seeing yourself on Zoom. “The mirror makes you more susceptible to compare yourself with others and [think] about who you should be and how you should look.”

Hancock says that too much inward focus can cause people to focus on their “defects," which can lead to depression, anxiety, and sadness over time.

Increased Cognitive Load

The researchers also found that women were more aware of their nonverbal cues on screen, like smiling and other gestures, than men. Producing and interpreting nonverbal cues added to the “cognitive load” that women endured on video calls. 

“Society places a lot of pressure [on women] and now, they're looking at themselves more and how they're coming across,” Hancock says.

Feeling Trapped

Women also reported the strain of physical immobility or a sense of being physically trapped on screen. In face-to-face meetings, people can move around or turn their gaze to the person who is talking. Video meetings require a level of stillness that can lead to feelings of exhaustion. 

"This was a really big factor," Hancock says. "It was almost as strong a predictor as mirror anxiety."

Longer Meetings and Fewer Breaks

Even though women reported having the same number of meetings as men, their meetings ran longer. Women also reporting taking fewer breaks between video calls than men.

Hancock hypothesizes that the reason might be down to women having less power at work, meaning that they have to stay in meetings until their boss ends them. If meetings eat up large chunks of a woman's day, they're likely trying to get work done between them and therefore take fewer breaks. 

Many women are also balancing their work-at-home life with responsibilities at home, especially child care. “They're trying to get their work done while they're managing childcare and home care," Hancock says. "They still have more responsibilities."

Age, Race, and Personality Also Contributed to Zoom Fatigue

The researchers also noted that several personal and professional traits (like age and personality types) contributed to how "wiped out" someone felt after a video meeting.

Extroverts were less likely than introverts to feel Zoom fatigue. Younger employees were more likely than older employees to report feelings of exhaustion after video meetings. 

Hancock points out that race was another factor. People of color reported slightly higher levels of Zoom fatigue than white participants. “Women are getting harder hit by the pandemics, as are people of color," Hancock says. "And this is just another indicator."

How to Prevent Zoom Fatigue

Video meetings likely won’t disappear anytime soon. Therefore, the researchers say that it's important for people to find ways to minimize or manage the negative effects of screen time.

Geraldine Fauville

Our findings should inspire companies to rethink their video conference policies and culture.

— Geraldine Fauville

Don't Watch Yourself on Screen

One tip is to try to avoid staring at yourself during a video call. “Zoom has this option to hide your self-view so your camera stays on and the other participants can see you but you don’t have this window with your own image,” Fauville says, adding that the feature is not available on all video conference platforms.

Change Up Your View

You can also try switching up your desk arrangement—either by using a standing desk or having the camera positioned farther away from your face. These set-ups will give you the ability to move your body and not stay square in the frame. 

Turn the Camera Off

While some employers and workplaces place more pressure on employees to have their cameras on for meetings, go video-free when you can. If your job necessitates having your camera on, try to take breaks during the day when it can be turned off.

Workplaces Need to Step Up

The researchers stress that addressing Zoom fatigue should not be completely left up to employees—especially women and people of color. Workplaces should find ways to help—whether by adopting video-free days or conducting phone meetings when using video is not necessary.

“Our findings should inspire companies to rethink their video conference policies and culture,” Fauville says. “They could do so, for example, by prohibiting the use of video in some online meetings or by reducing the number or duration of these meetings and making sure to avoid back-to-back video conference calls.”

Hancock echoes Fauville's advice. “The problem with just working with users is it [puts the responsibility on them] by saying, ‘Here's this problem that society has, and now you fix it," Hancock says. "That's unfair."

Employers need to recognize the need for change and make it happen. “We need institutions to step up and implement some policies," Hancock says. "Managers should be thinking a little bit more about Do we need video for this meeting? If not, mandatory video off for everyone.”

What This Means For You

Women report more fatigue from video conferences, which researchers say should help inform workplace policies. Taking camera-free days and holding phone meetings—unless using video is strictly necessary—can help combat exhaustion.

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  1. Fauville G, Luo M, Queiroz ACM, Bailenson JN, Hancock J. Nonverbal mechanisms predict Zoom fatigue and explain why women experience higher levels than men. SSRN. Published online 2021. doi:10.2139/ssrn.3820035