Why Do Virtual Meetings Leave Women More Exhausted Than Men?
One year into the Covid19 lockdown and no one is a stranger to Zoom fatigue — the overwhelming weariness that people experience from sitting in video meetings every day. But new research suggests that women bear the extent of exhaustion more acutely than men; this is because the mental strain of constantly looking at one’s reflection is greater for women, who were also found to be logging in more hours virtually and taking fewer breaks.
The gendered impact of Zoom fatigue has circulated as anecdotes before, with women registering the emotional and mental toll through conversations. But the study, which currently exists as a preprint on Social Science Research Network journal, identifies tangible reasons for this exhaustion disparity. The results highlight the growing burden women are facing as work-from-home models become the norm: they are charged with balancing home chores with the office work load.
Out of the 10,332 people the study interviewed, one in seven women reported feeling “very” to “extremely” fatigued after Zoom calls; in comparison, around one in 20 men complained of a similar feeling. One of the primary reasons, the researchers suggest, is the feeling of ‘mirror anxiety,’ which is the self-conscious feeling people experience after looking at one’s image in the camera constantly. This is in line with previous research that suggests women are more likely to look at themselves when looking in a mirror; this also triggers a self-consciousness of appearance in women that can spiral into negative thoughts.
There is a social process at the heart of this: women have been socialized to be more aware and concerned about their looks. Relatedly, the impact of watching yourself constantly on video calls has also resulted in body image issues: “Maybe they think their ears are too big, or something’s funny about them, or their arms are too long and then they become really hyper-focused on that thing,” Karen Steinberg-Galluci, a clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychiatry at UConn Health, told CT Post. Called body dysmorphic disorder, several people have attested to this unhealthy and extreme sense of self-consciousness, reflected in the increased demand for plastic surgery during the lockdown.
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Other reasons women are more exhausted by Zoom include logging in more hours virtually and taking fewer breaks. According to separate research, women are now working more hours than in pre-pandemic days. According to a Women at Work survey by CNBC, more than 65% of working women believe the pandemic has made things worse for women at work, and more than half say they feel burned out at least some of the time, more than a third say they’ve thought about quitting their job over the past year. The study shows the burden women face, which when coupled with more domestic work during the pandemic, leaves working women shortchanged. Evidence shows that the pandemic ushered in a childcare crisis, and women have had to return to traditional roles of taking care of children and other home chores. “Women, who have traditionally taken on primary caregiving duties have been especially hard hit, with added daily responsibilities and a host of new challenges to their work/life arrangements,” a recent Deloitte report noted. It found that nearly 70% of women who have experienced pandemic disruptions are concerned about their career growth.
The study also suggests that introverts, younger people, people of color, and those with underlying anxiety also experience higher levels of Zoom fatigue — suggesting that personality, race, and age also play key roles in determining weariness. They used a Zoom & Exhaustion Fatigue scale — a 15-item questionnaire that is available online — to explore the time participant spent on video calls.
Work-from-home models are likely to continue into the distant future — not only because of rising Covid19 cases but also as companies evince interest in moving to a hybrid system of work. This precipitates the need to come up with sustainable solutions to address Zoom fatigue. These may include encouraging mini-breaks between calls, using audio-only formats for virtual meetings, and switching to phone calls or email whenever possible, according to experts from Harvard Business Review.
“As the world transitions to the post-pandemic era, in which the future of work is likely to be hybrid, it will be important to maximize the benefits of video conferencing while reducing the psychological costs, especially given that these costs are born unequally across society,” the researchers conclude in their paper.