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Zoom fatigue is real, and it's worse for women according to Stanford study

By Bim Santos Published Apr 14, 2021 3:45 pm

Many people may have been feeling it for quite some time already, but now there’s a study proving it — Zoom fatigue is a thing, and it’s especially worse for women.

In a research study published by Stanford University, men and women have reported increased stress due to Zoom fatigue, which is a blanket term that refers to the feeling of exhaustion following videoconference meetings.

The stress, however, is greater for women according to the research, which has yet to be peer-reviewed.

The study found out that one in seven women or 13.8% reported feeling “very” to “extremely” fatigued after Zoom calls, compared with one in 20 or 5.5% for men.

Researchers noted that the study contributes to a growing body of work pointing out the disproportionate negative impact of COVID-19 on women such as having more economic hardships, heavier childcare load, and increased struggles with body image.

Self-focused attention
A total of 10,322 participants were surveyed in February and March using a “Zoom Exhaustion and Fatigue Scale” to understand the effects of videoconferencing.

“We’ve all heard stories about Zoom fatigue and anecdotal evidence that women are affected more, but now we have quantitative data that Zoom fatigue is worse for women, and more importantly, we know why,” Jeffrey Hancock, co-author of the study and Humanities professor, told Stanford News.

The primary reason why women feel stressed more than men, according to the study, was that they were more conscious of how they looked onscreen, something called "self-focused attention" triggered by the self-view feature.

In the survey, women answered higher than men in questions such as “During a video conference, how concerned do you feel about seeing yourself?” and “During a video conference, how distracting is it to see yourself?”

The gender disparity is also in line with previous research showing that women tend to self-focus more than men in front of a mirror, which could then produce what researchers call “mirror anxiety.”

Physically trapped
Another factor contributing to stress is the “sense of being physically trapped because of the need to stay within the field of view of the camera.” As compared to face-to-face meetings where people can pace, move, and stretch, video conferences tend to limit people’s movement.

The research also noted that while women and men have the same number of meetings in a day, women’s meetings tend to run longer and women were also less likely to take breaks in between meetings, which then contributed to fatigue.

One suggested remedy to ward off “mirror anxiety” was just to turn off self-view.

To avoid feeling trapped, users can move farther away from the screen or just turn off one’s video for short breaks during the meeting.

But organizations should also rethink how to manage a remote workforce by considering more meetings that are video-free, and provide guidelines on how frequent and how long meetings should be.