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Zoom fatigue hits working mothers

Christin Hume/Unsplash

Tools such as instant messaging and video conferencing allowed people to work from home during the pandemic, but they add to the stress for women with children, according to a UNLV-led study.

And it found one of the biggest stressors is Zoom, the remote-meeting software popularized during the lockdown.

Researchers surveyed 540 adults in May 2020 who had worked for up to 10 weeks remotely, and found that stress levels among women with children skyrocketed — “likely because blurred work-life balance boundaries meant they took on the brunt of juggling homeschooling and household chores alongside professional duties,” according to a UNLV statement.

"We learned about the stress and loneliness, and issues with increased use of technology," said UNLV Assistant Communications Studies Professor Natalie Pennington, the study's lead researcher.

Pennington said working from home, popularized during the pandemic, is a mixed bag, with parents, usually mothers, frequently asked to balance family demands with work. On the other hand, she said, freeing people from a commute gives them more personal time.

"If you're able to get that hour back to start your day, that can feel really good for you," Pennington told State of Nevada.

She said the loss of the social aspect of in-person work combines with the demands of Zoom and the virtual office to create stressors.

"You have to be on a camera, you're letting people see your home," she said. "It can be uncomfortable, especially as you add more people to calls."

Even old-fashioned texting can add to stress over the concern that the sender might be expecting an immediate reply.

"We text with our friends and family a lot, but when you start to have texting expectations for work, it can create stress," Pennington said. "Somebody might not see a text right away, and if you expect somebody to be able to reply at a moment's notice, that can cause a lot of anxiety."

She said online-meeting organizers can help lower stress levels by allowing participants to join just with audio, which negates the need for dressing up or cleaning up.

“The chat functions in Zoom or other video platforms, they can be really helpful,” Pennington said. “A lot of the times in bigger meetings, we suggest that there's one person who's facilitating orally while another person sort of handles the chat.”

The study was published in the journal Communication Reports and conducted in collaboration with Michigan State University Associate Professor Amanda Holmstrom and University of Kansas Professor Jeff Hall.

Natalie Pennington, assistant professor, UNLV


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Kristen Kidman is a former senior producer at KNPR’s State of Nevada and is proud to be from Las Vegas.