A new study suggests that “Zoom fatigue” is worse for women than men

 


HAVING ENDURED endless virtual meetings over the past year, many workers are unsurprisingly complaining about “Zoom fatigue”. Videoconferencing can be exhausting. Having to stay within the camera’s gaze leaves limbs stiff and bottoms sore. Looking at your own face on screen can be bad for self-esteem. And trying to communicate without all the usual visual cues (not least because of time-lags) adds to the “cognitive load” for already stressed-out employees.

New research suggests that the condition is more prevalent among women than men. A team of researchers led by Géraldine Fauville at the University of Gothenburg surveyed some 10,500 people about their experience with video conferences during the pandemic. Using their own Zoom Exhaustion and Fatigue (ZEF) scale, which assesses exhaustion on various measures, the researchers found that around 14% of the women in their sample reported feeling very to extremely fatigued, compared with less than 6% of men.

This may be because women work differently online. The researchers found that, although women reported having roughly the same number of meetings per day as men, their meetings tended to be longer and had shorter breaks in between (perhaps because of the sort of work they do or other responsibilities such as childcare). It makes sense that longer periods of staring at a screen without a break would leave women feeling more cross-eyed. The pressure to maintain a certain appearance may also weigh more heavily on women, who struggle more often with body image. After analyzing the survey responses, the researchers found that staring at one’s own image for long stretches had a particularly negative effect on women.

Women are not the only ones suffering disproportionately from videoconferencing woes. 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 begin to reopen and some people continue working remotely some of the time. The evidence points to a few simple solutions to Zoom fatigue: use audio-only calls where possible, check on fellow workers to see how they are holding up, and, once you have fixed your hair and picked the spinach out of your teeth, turn off the self-view function.

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