How managers can help prevent Zoom fatigue
June 15, 2022
About six months into the pandemic, employees all over the world began complaining about a now-common ailment: Zoom fatigue. Similar to other types of burnout, Zoom fatigue can cause a person to dread daily activities and commitments that would otherwise cause no emotional reaction at all. This can quickly lead to a drop in productivity and can even cause employees to walk away from positions.
Because so many Zoom meetings in remote teams are required or strongly encouraged, the burden to address the potential pitfalls shouldn’t rest solely on each individual. Leaders can address the issue of Zoom fatigue and assist employees in preventing burnout and remaining engaged in their roles.
Zoom fatigue: what it is
Zoom fatigue is a type of burnout caused by overwork. What is unique about Zoom fatigue is that Zoom is also the cause of this burnout. Commonly reported symptoms include:
-Feeling exhausted after Zoom calls
-Feelings of irritation and impatience with co-workers
-Difficulty concentrating during calls
-New and unexpected dread of calls
Given the importance of Zoom meetings for remote teams to stay connected, it is important that managers give the same consideration to Zoom fatigue as other work/life balance issues.
Why it happens
For many people, the thought of working from home sounds far more relaxing than a tedious commute followed by countless interactions with co-workers each day. And in the age of Covid, working from the safety of one’s home can seem like a huge blessing. So when Zoom fatigue became a common dynamic, many were caught off guard or hesitant to express their need for a break.
Because it now impacts so many employees, it may be useful to understand the very real reasons why video calls can be more tiring than in-person.
Extended eye gaze
The article “Nonverbal Overload: A Theoretical Argument for the Causes of Zoom Fatigue” by Jeremy N. Bailenson in the February 2021 issue of Technology, Mind, and Behavior looked at the different ways that we interact in Zoom meetings and the mental and physical impact. The first big difference has to do with the amount of effort it takes to constantly be looking someone in the eye.
Bailenson argues that Zoom stimulates a closer face-to-face interaction than you would normally have, with far more pressure to be also stimulating eye contact.
Even in one-on-one meetings, both people tend to spend much of the time with their eyes focused on something else, only occasionally looking each other in the eyes. During group meetings, most people will be looking somewhere other than directly into the eyes of the person speaking. Likewise, in group meetings, the person speaking won’t expect to have each person in the meeting staring at them the entire time and will spend little time engaged in direct eye contact with participants.
In a Zoom meeting, on the other hand, this constant focus and stimulated eye contact is nearly nonstop. This is physically and mentally draining, both for the person speaking, and for those listening.
Because we are raised learning to communicate in-person, a relatively small amount of effort typically goes into focusing on monitoring our appearance and movement while doing so. On Zoom, the opposite is true. Says Bailenson:
“Examples include centering oneself in the camera’s field of view, nodding in an exaggerated way for a few extra seconds to signal agreement, or looking directly into the camera (as opposed to the faces on the screen) to try and make direct eye contact when speaking. This constant monitoring of behavior adds up. Even the way we vocalize on video takes effort. Croes et al. (2019) compared face-to-face interaction to videoconferences and demonstrated people speak 15% louder when interacting on video. Consider the effects of raising one’s voice substantially for an entire workday.”
Self-critique and self-evaluation can be very distracting and very exhausting for some. Because we have been largely socialized to interact with others with a relatively small amount of awareness about how we look while doing so, this is a massive shift that can take a toll.
Sitting still in one place with an over-awareness that each gesture is being magnified not only leads to physical fatigue, but fear about one’s work performance. As Bailenson points out, decreased mobility doesn’t necessarily help an employee to focus, it leads to compromised ability:
“During face-to-face meetings, people move. They pace, stand up, and stretch, doodle on a notepad, get up to use a chalkboard, even walk over to the water cooler to refill their glass. There are a number of studies showing that locomotion and other movements cause better performance in meetings. For example, people who are walking, even when it is indoors, come up with more creative ideas than people who are sitting (Oppezzo & Schwartz, 2014).”
Zoom fatigue: Why it matters
The last point highlights why Zoom fatigue is an important issue for managers to be aware of. When employees feel burnt out, they can find it impossible to perform important functions of their role. Long term, they may even leave an organization as a solution. Alternatively, when employees see that their managers are showing concern and looking to provide more positive solutions, enthusiasm for their work can be regained.
How leaders can help
-Reserve time at the beginning of meetings for ice-breakers
Although the time you have for Zoom meetings with remote employees is previous, reserving five minutes at the beginning can go a long way in helping people to relax, settle into the space, and let their guard down. The result can be a meeting that is much less tiring, if not energizing.
-Allow participants to send in written responses
Utilize the chat option to make meetings more dynamic and to give employees the option to participate without the pressure of all eyes on them. Also respect the fact that choosing not to take a turn speaking may not necessarily be an indication of a lack of interest or engagement.
-Use video meetings sparingly.
Are twice-weekly meetings to “touch base” really necessary? There is something to be said about keeping a team connected through regular meetings and face-to-face interactions, but it does no good if team members dread attending or end up getting burnt out. Instead, consider doing more through a group platform and reserving the “catch up” or “check in” Zoom calls for when a longer period of time has passed, such as every other week or one big check-in a month.
-Pick up the phone
Likewise, there is no reason why phone calls have to become obsolete. Phone calls require a significantly less amount of cognitive load, eliminate the all-day mirror trouble, and allow for full mobility. Consider sorting some things with a phone call rather than defaulting to Zoom each time.
Everyone will thank you for taking a stand in favor of shorter meetings. Even shortening the normal 30-minute meeting to 25 and the 60 minute to 50 can go a long way in providing team members with time to stretch between tasks and will make the meetings that much more productive.
-Encourage employees to stretch and take breaks
Do your employees know that it is okay to get up and stretch during a Zoom call or to take care of their needs such as getting water or taking a bathroom break? Just informing them that this is acceptable may help them to feel more comfortable and might encourage them to do so.
-Teach your team members about the ‘hide self-view’ option
Zoom’s ‘hide self-view’ option allows participants to make face-to-face video calls more like “in real life” by letting those on the call see others but not themselves. This alone may solve the problem of Zoom fatigue or dread for your team members.