While working from home has long been a sought-after perk for some employees, a new reality of frequent online meetings and an inability to disconnect from the job has created a new stressor called “Zoom burnout.” Workplace burnout is nothing new, but this new digital version has its own idiosyncrasies. Here’s what you need to know to identify digital workplace burnout and four tips to help you prevent it.
Since many of your employees may now be remote workers, chances are good that your team is attending more meetings than ever. While it may not seem like a lot to commit to regular online meetings for work, it’s common for them to contribute to an overarching sense of fatigue. Some of that stems from the fact that our computer screens naturally cause eye strain over time. Since we’re all sitting in front of our computers for at least eight hours each day, that eye strain can be a factor before an online meeting even starts.
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In addition to the technological strain that comes with working on a computer for hours at a time, human social interactions also suffer when participating in an online meeting. One of the areas in which online meetings hamper social interactions is the inability to easily read facial expressions and body language. Daron Robertson, CEO of Bhive, said while video conferencing is a helpful tool, it’s not always helpful in facilitating effective communication.
“Video fails to accurately recreate the in-person experience,” he said. “With no direct eye contact, your brain is working overtime to interpret others. ‘Are they listening to me or reading email?’ You never know because the eyes are looking away in both scenarios.”
An estimated 56 percent of workers believe the average Zoom meeting runs for too long, and 23 percent of remote workers described their Zoom burnout as “extremely fatiguing.”
Since online meetings often focus on a person’s face, things like posture and hand placement that would normally provide insights in an in-person meeting can go missing in a video call, Robertson continued. Online meetings can also be stressful for people since they become hyper-aware that they’re being watched and may worry about how they look.
“Can you imagine how surreal it would be to hold a mirror next to the face of the person you are talking to? That’s the video chat experience,” Robertson said. “Your brain is distracted by the view of self and thinking about how you look, if you’re showing engagement, or smiling enough. It’s exhausting.”
While the often-impersonal aspects of online meetings can cause mental and emotional exhaustion, the technology’s ease of use can also contribute to an inflation in the number of work-related meetings. Too many meetings were already a stressor in some workplaces, and some workers now feel like they’re required to attend even more meetings, leading to increased stress as they juggle work and at-home responsibilities.
If you’re wondering if your workday malaise – or your employees’ disengagement in meetings – stems from a form of Zoom burnout, there are some ways to see if this “new normal” is adding to your workplace stress.
While not a specific medical diagnosis according to WHO, the employee burnout syndrome is an occupational phenomenon that can affect a person’s mental health. You can identify burnout by asking yourself some key questions about how you feel about your job.
Determining whether you’re overly cynical at work or finding it hard to get started with your day can be common symptoms of workplace burnout. A general sense of disillusion or a lack of satisfaction can also be warning signs.
If you’re generally experiencing typical burnout symptoms like exhaustion, energy depletion, depression, cynicism, excessive stress levels or anxiety, you may want to get help from a health professional.
In terms of Zoom burnout, however, you may want to consider whether the prospect of jumping onto another online work meeting conjures up negative feelings. If that’s the case, it may be because your past meetings weren’t as productive as you may have hoped.
“A lack of key decisions or clear deliverables following team meetings results in employees feeling like the meeting was a waste of time and could have been handled in email or other communications,” said Drumwright. “These early signs point to larger failures as projects stall out or encounter problems the team has difficulty overcoming. When I hear things like ‘I need time to do my work,’ it signals a leader who is desperate to keep the team ‘connected’ through Zoom.”
The Mayo Clinic also suggests that some possible causes for job burnout include some external factors, including things like a general lack of control, workplace dysfunction, extremes of activity, and a work-life imbalance. All of those indicators can point back to the general upheaval that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought upon the world, as well as the massive changes we’re all feeling while working from home.
Though most American workers now use video conferencing platforms like Zoom to conduct business meetings, it doesn’t mean that everyone should have to burn out in short order. To avoid stressing out your employees, the following tips can help you maintain a productive team and foster a healthy work-life balance for your remote workers.
In the grand scheme of things, digital video conferencing is a new way for teams to communicate. If you need to share information, you can always return to email, telephone calls or other methods of communication.
“Web conferencing and chat aren’t practical for every problem that emerges in the work-from-home environment,” Drumwright said. “It’s critical that business leaders and managers rethink the fundamental tools needed to keep employees connected while working at home. This means looking beyond proven video conferencing platforms and acknowledging that as folks are remote, not everything can be accomplished using the same tool.”
If online video conferencing is the only way you feel you can properly convey your message, then make the work environment more relaxed by easing up on requiring that your employees show their faces as well. Letting people participate without needing to transmit their image can ease some of the stress. “As a leader, try to set the example and be on video yourself, but if others don’t join you, don’t punish them for it,” Robertson said. “Having everyone jump on video once or twice a day is great, and should be encouraged, but not required.”
Remote workers likely juggle several things at once, such as child care. As a result, you should be flexible if things don’t work out when trying to set up or run a meeting. Unless a remote worker is absolutely needed on the spot — and then they should be well aware of that fact — give them some flexibility in setting their own schedule.
“If you hear kids in the background, don’t get embarrassed or annoyed, rather lean into it,” Robertson said. “Use it as an opportunity to get to know each other better, and occasionally get those kids into the call.”
If you absolutely need a way to keep tabs on your employees or want to show solidarity in your new work-from-home realities, try finding alternative ways to keep connected. For example, Robertson said his company’s Bhive platform allows for its users to see each other while working “side by side.”
“I’m on all the time, and anyone can see me in my home office whenever they want,” he said. “A big difference is the camera is off to the side, and wide angle, so it’s not in your face. It’s a much more comfortable way to work on video and still give us that continuous connection that people crave now.”
Research shows that taking frequent short breaks throughout the day boosts energy levels and staves off work-related exhaustion. The result is happier, more productive employees and a reduced risk of occupational burnout becoming a serious problem for your organization.
Encourage your employees to step away from work periodically throughout the day. Coach them to unplug during lunch and to find time to take a walk when the workload allows. While your employees won’t be at their desk for every minute of their shift, empowering them to take these frequent breaks will make the time they are present all the more valuable.
Employees and employers need to work together to prevent Zoom burnout (and occupational burnout, as well.) Employers should create space for their employees to unplug, as well as understand when a video call is necessary and when it isn’t. Employees also need to recognize the importance of working at a healthy pace and managing their time wisely. Periodic wellness check-ins in addition to typical workplace meetings can help managers gauge how employees are feeling and course correct accordingly. After all, creating a happy and healthy workplace is a team effort.