At this stage of the pandemic, it’s surprising to exactly no one that spending lots of time on Zoom can be exhausting. The problem is so common that it even has a catchy name — Zoom fatigue — and an avalanche of articles suggesting fixes and workarounds. What’s often less well understood is that not everyone is equally at risk of Zoom-related mental exhaustion.
A new study recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology showed that women and newer employees were more likely to feel exhausted by too much time on video calls. The reason helps to both illuminate the causes of Zoom fatigue and how we can all avoid it.
Zoom fatigue affects some employees more than others
To dig into who is most affected by Zoom fatigue, a team of researchers out of the University of Arizona monitored the video calls of just over 100 employees at a heavily remote company over the course of 19 working days. By asking participants to sometimes switch their cameras off or on and questioning them about their level of fatigue each day, the researchers were able to track the mental effects of time spent on camera during calls.
Their first finding was not exactly shocking: More time on camera increases your risk of feeling mentally exhausted at the end of the day. But when they looked closer at the data, the researchers noticed something less intuitive. Women and newer employees felt the effects of lots of Zoom time more strongly than more senior or male employees.
“The relationship between having the camera turned on and fatigue was stronger for women than men, and for those who were new to an organization compared with those who had been there for a longer time,” the British Psychological Society Research Digest blog sums up.
They’re not the first to notice this gender gap. Stanford research earlier this year also found that women and younger employees were more likely to suffer from Zoom fatigue. And that people of color were also at slightly higher risk.
What that tells us about avoiding Zoom fatigue
Why do these groups suffer disproportionately? That question is still under investigation, but the authors of the latest study have some ideas. They speculate that the explanation is self-consciousness. Those who are more worried they will be judged for their appearance, professionalism, or degree of engagement with the call spend more energy monitoring their own image during video calls, which leaves them feeling more drained afterward.
“Women often feel the pressure to be effortlessly perfect or have a greater likelihood of child care interruptions, and newer employees feel like they must be on camera and participate in order to show productiveness,” explains study co-author Allison Gabriel.
The findings might provide some comfort to female or junior employees who were feeling alone in their struggles with Zoom fatigue. But they also offer actionable insight to just about anyone who spends a fair amount of time on video calls. The researchers note that simply switching off the camera, hiding your own image, or opting for a voice call can fight exhaustion, so if your workplace culture allows it, consider taking these steps when you start to feel tired.
The biggest lesson of all, however, might be for leaders who see video calls as the best way to keep tabs on out-of-office employees. You might feel more secure monitoring your people this way, but your insistence on always using video is likely having the unintended effect of sapping the effectiveness of your team, the women, young people, and people of color in particular.
Simply stating that you support the right of your employees to choose when they switch on the camera, cutting unnecessary meetings, and making sure to schedule adequate breaks between calls can go a long way toward preventing burnout and getting the best out of your people.