Zoom burnout? You are not alone.

If Zoom is supposed to be a lifeline during these times, why are we all so sick of it?

a woman wearing a surgical face mask using a laptop to have a video call with a man wearing a surgical face mask

Thursday, 21 May, 2020

As we approach the third month of life affected by COVID-19 many are suffering from a new ailment – “Zoom fatigue”. It sounds like an excuse to end a Friday afternoon meeting early but Zoom fatigue is all too real!

A common problem that deaf people have is something called ‘Concentration fatigue’. This is where the focus of lip reading and signing causes burnout. Imagine having to add three extra layers of work to have a simple conversation.

It’s real!

Well, you don’t have to imagine anymore. Researchers are now comparing using Zoom relative to the level of concentration a deaf person needs daily.

“It’s not necessarily persistent fatigue but surely a measurable increase in listening effort…” said Mario Svirsky, professor of hearing science at NYU Langone Health medical center.

“…Noise in the background can bring you over a tipping point…communication becomes much more difficult…you have to do a lot of work. You may participate in a meeting focusing on everything for the full two hours and, at the end, you are wiped out.”

- Mario Svirsky

Why is it so hard? 

Many are finding it difficult to communicate through non-verbal cues or gestures because of video quality. Another issue making communication more difficult is audio lagging. Audio lagging is when the audio of a video call and the picture are out of sync. These are issues faced by deaf people daily as they try to put together these jumbled pieces of communication.

So why are we feeling the effects of this now, and not in conversations in crowded places? It’s because we don’t have non verbal cues and body language to fall back on.

If you mishear something when chatting with a friend over coffee, their face or gestures show what they meant. If you mishear something over Zoom, with a bad connection you might take something entirely out of context. It’s a lot more cognitive processing than we’re used to for a simple interaction, which means we get fatigued.

What can I do to make it easier?

There are a few things that can help lessen the impact of Zoom fatigue. Make sure you and the people you’re speaking with have well lit backgrounds.

If it’s a work meeting, ask if you can record to refer back to. That should alleviate some of the stress of missing anything.

If not, take turns in taking notes so everyone knows where you’re at. Most importantly make sure you have a reliable internet connection which has both good upload and download speeds!

Natalie Dunning author picture


Natalie Dunning is a freelance writer and Media Psychology researcher based in Manchester.