'Zoom' fatigue is real and worse for women, one study says. Here's why

Researchers found that overall, 1 in 7 women reported feeling "very" to "extremely" fatigued after Zoom calls.


Video calls have taken over people's work and personal lives during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the shift from in-person meeting to virtual has taken a toll on society, particularly among women, according to a new study.

The Stanford University study purports to be the first large-scale study examining the full extent of Zoom fatigue.

Jeff Hancock, professor of communication at Stanford University, told KCRA 3 there are a few reasons why Zoom fatigue is different than regular face-to-face meetings or telephone calls.

One of them is the "mirror" effect, he said.

"We've gone from talking to people face to face, to actually having a mirror of ourselves right beside the face of the person we're looking at," he said.

He noted that mirrors weren't widespread until about 200 years ago.

"And now we're seeing them even while we're talking to our friends, family, colleagues, and that can trigger some anxiety," he said. "If you don't look the way you want, or it makes you think about yourself all the time, or you ignore the other person."

All those things can lead to fatigue.

Hancock said the mirror effect is believed to be the "biggest difficulty for women" because they are "a little bit more anxious about the mirror."

Researchers found that overall, 1 in 7 women – 13.8% – compared with 1 in 20 men – 5.5%– reported feeling "very" to "extremely" fatigued after Zoom calls.

"Women had less breaks in between their Zooms. We weren't expecting that," Hancock said. "We think it's because they also have to do more childcare and home care, so they're probably trying to squeeze their Zoom meetings in and that could be another reason why they're getting a lot more tired."

Hancock said there are other downsides to virtual meetings that both men and women feel, like the feeling of being physically constrained.

"So right now I have to stay inside this box, that is the camera. Unlike a regular meeting, I can't turn around, or walk or pace, and so a lot of people report feeling physically trapped," Hancock said. "And that's tiring, especially for younger people."

Another downside is hyper gaze, the feeling where if you're in meetings with a lot of people, even when you're not talking it seems like everyone is looking at you when you're not.

"That's that feeling of like being stared at, and it's also kind of close. That makes us feel kind of like physiologically excited," Hancock said. "Doing that for a long time can make us really tired."

Worrying about how you're moving your hands, whose turn it is to talk and other normally effortless actions that happen during in-person meetings can also "take a real toll" for people using video conferences, Hancock said.

Here are action items organizations can make to reduce Zoom fatigue, according to the study:

  • Implement no-video meeting days. Have a day each week that does not require any video meetings.
  • If video is not necessary for a meeting, make "video off" mandatory for that meeting. People should think hard about whether video is necessary for a meeting, and if it is not, make video-off mandatory so that no one feels the pressure to keep it on.
  • Find out if your employees or colleagues are fatigued. Have your employees take the Stanford ZEF scale to measure their fatigue and find solutions to help reduce it.