Health & Wellness

Video-Conferences Are Taking a Toll

“Zoom fatigue” is real, psychologists and work experts say


Work meetings, cocktails with friends, concerts, and even dates are now being facilitated through video-conferencing platforms such as Zoom, and while it all may have seemed fun at first, psychologists contend it’s beginning to wear on us.

Unlike in-person conversations, platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet, Microsft Teams, and Skype can be off-putting for many because our own image is constantly on the screen. That can make you to feel self-conscious and that you’re constantly “on” and performing, Marissa Shuffler, an assistant professor in industrial-organizational psychology at Clemson University in South Carolina, told CBC News.

This effect is compounded when it’s not just one person you’re talking with but dozens more, she said, as when you’re in a large meeting or taking an online course. It’s hard not to feel that you’re constantly the centre of attention, something you typically wouldn’t feel in a group setting in person. If you already struggle with anxiety, you might feel that everyone’s looking at you.

The problem isn’t not only feeling self-conscious, though. Additional focus is required to pick up on social cues such as facial expressions and the tone and pitch of voice, which can be difficult to analyze through a screen.

“Our minds are together when our bodies feel we’re not. That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. You cannot relax into the conversation naturally,” Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor at Insead, who researches sustainable learning and development in the workplace, said in a BBC interview.

When so many different aspects of your life play out through Zoom calls, life loses the variety that makes it rich, he said.

“Most of our social roles happen in different places, but now the context has collapsed,” Petriglieri said. “Imagine if you go to a bar, and in the same bar, you talk with your professors, meet your parents or date someone—isn’t it weird? That’s what we’re doing now.”

Turning off your webcam throughout meetings or opting to the telephone can help, experts say. If your job requires you to sit through multiple calls per day, you can reduce fatigue by stepping away from the screen when you have downtime instead of entertaining yourself through additional Zoom calls with friends.

Photo: iStock/fizkes.