Video Call Anxiety: A Source of Stress, Annoyance and Embarrassment?

Guy exhausted from videocalls

Key Takeaways

  • Remote workers reported higher anxiety for virtual meetings compared to their on-site counterparts (38% to 21%)
  • Climbing the work hierarchy leads to more video call time, with 58% of entry-level workers reporting 2 hours or less per week and only 31% of leadership reporting the same
  • 1 in 6 workers feel very exhausted after video calls; this exhaustion leads to more reported days of work-related burnout

If you had a Zoom call for work today, would just the thought of it stress you out? For many people, it really would. After more than a year of the common remote working experience, are employees getting better at handling virtual meetings? What stressful experiences still persist, and how can we make things better?

We recently spoke to more than a thousand employed Americans to find out. With the majority of U.S. citizens working remotely, there was a lot of virtual meeting experience in this group. They shared their top pet peeves, biggest embarrassments, and their levels of Zoom call anxiety and fatigue. If you’re curious to see the impact Zoom is having on the psyche of the American workforce – as well as possibilities for improvement – keep reading.

Video Call Emotions

Our study kicks off with a look into the emotions employees reported experiencing during the actual meetings. We compared anxiety levels for virtual versus in-person meetings, the most stressful meeting agendas, and the most worrisome video call problems.

Anxiety in Virtual Meetings

More than a third of respondents reported the highest possible anxiety levels during virtual meetings. That said, this was roughly the same frequency of anxiety experienced during in-person meetings, suggesting the digital nature is not to blame. Virtual meetings actually revealed themselves to be less stressful than in person specifically for interviews and presentations you have to lead yourself. It was group meetings that were the most poorly suited for digital instead of in-person formats.

Concerns over virtual backgrounds were the most worrisome problems among Zoom callers today. Even reputable news sources agree that your background actually does say a lot about you, warranting the common concern employees had. This struggle was even more worrisome than speaking over others or having audio quality issues on the call.

External meetings vs internal meetings anxiety

Post-Meeting Blues

The anxiety and fatigue experienced during virtual meetings can have repercussions beyond the call itself. Next, our study digs into the exhaustion and emotions employees reported feeling immediately after the Zoom calls were over.

Exhaustion after virtual meetings

Time commitments to Zoom these days are not small. Most employees reported spending between three and ten hours every single week in virtual meetings. And the higher up an employee rose in the ranks, the more time they were spending in these meetings. Across all levels of employment, these meetings took their toll.

One in 6 respondents reported feeling “very fatigued” after each call, with another 31% saying they felt moderately fatigued. Again, higher levels of employment were battling this sense of fatigue even more often, with as much as 27% of leadership feeling “very fatigued” after each one of their numerous Zoom calls. The most exhausting part of it all was not being able to change positions (24%) followed by the sheer exhaustion of having anxiety during the call (18%). Sitting still and anxiety actually go hand in hand: Sedentary lifestyles are known to correlate with increased anxiety levels. Things like too much screen time and having to look directly at others also took their energetic tolls.

Interruptions and Pet Peeves

Next we wanted to know what was actually occurring in these meetings that may have contributed to feelings of anxiety and/or fatigue. Respondents shared their most embarrassing moments as well as their top pet peeves. Responses were analyzed by gender and level of employment.

Virtual meeting annoyances

Most often, employees are embarrassed by pets interrupting their virtual meetings. This particular type of embarrassment may actually be nothing to worry about, however. After The New York Times posted a tweet telling people not to let their pets on calls, so many people disagreed, stating that they wanted to see more pets, that the NYT ultimately deleted the tweet. The more pets, the merrier most think. Messy backgrounds, however, were almost just as embarrassing and perhaps rightfully so. Considering how easy it is to set up a virtual or blurred background, there’s no reason to distract your co-workers with your mess. Leave that to your pets.

Embarrassing moments_videocalls

The most bothersome piece of a Zoom call was a poor internet connection. Across every level of employment, from entry-level to senior management, poor internet connection was the No. 1 pet peeve. This was even worse than having too many people in the meeting or being interrupted.

Problem Solving

With so much Zoom experience, we figured employees might have come up with a few suggestions or solutions. We conclude our study here by highlighting their primary solutions and the success rates of those who applied the ideas.

Solutions for virtual meetings

The first solution was simple: Put the meeting information in an email. They demonstrated reasonableness here as well, with most suggesting that somewhere between a quarter and half of meetings, but not all, should change to email format. Evidently, there’s merit to this idea, as those who spent more time on video calls were also reporting higher levels of burnout. Perhaps switching some of those meetings to email would also help ease employee burnout, which is known to improve employee productivity and the company’s bottom line.

To make the remaining video calls better, the most helpful tip was to turn off the camera when possible. More than a quarter of those who tried it agreed that it helped. Another 36% said they wanted to try this strategy, while 15% felt it wasn’t an option, perhaps due to their roles or company policy. Scheduling video calls back to back was a big no-no: Most who tried this specifically said it did not help. Instead, many enjoyed the success of scheduling gaps (24%) and taking breaks during the meetings (21%).

Zooming Into Progress

Virtual meetings were ultimately tough on the average employee. Many reported increased feelings of anxiety, moments of embarrassment, and extreme fatigue afterward. We also saw a distinct correlation between time spent on Zoom and experiencing burnout. Respondents were also quick to point out how much of the content of these video meetings could simply be relayed via email.

Across all levels of employment and genders, poor internet connections were the No. 1 contributors to pet peeve frustrations.

Methodology and Limitations

We collected 1,009 responses of employed Americans from Amazon Mechanical Turk. Roughly 58% of our participants identified as men, 42% identified as women, and less than 1% identified as nonbinary or nonconforming. Participants ranged in age from 19 to 76 with a mean of 39 and a standard deviation of 10.6. Those who reported no current employment or who failed an attention-check question were disqualified.

The data we are presenting rely on self-report. There are many issues with self-reported data. These issues include, but are not limited to, the following: selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration.

Fair Use Statement

Anxiety (Zoom-related and otherwise) is a common problem today. If you know someone that you think may benefit from the findings of this study, please feel free to share the data with proper attribution to this page.

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Cybersecurity analyst
David is a cybersecurity analyst and one of the founders of VPNoverview.com. Since 2014 he has been gaining international experience working with governments, NGOs, and the private sector as a cybersecurity and VPN expert and advisor.