Yes, You Can Actually Say “No” to That Zoom Call—Experts Explain How

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No matter how old we are or how long we’ve been working, we all have questions when it comes to careers—from how to respond to a rejection letter to learning to say no when a role isn’t a good fit. That’s where Career Counselor comes in. In this weekly series, we connect with experts to answer all of your work-related questions. Because while we don’t all have the luxury of a career coach, we still deserve to grow in our careers.

As we enter the second year of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the way we live, play, and work continue to evolve. For instance, more working adults than ever are clocking in from outside of the office; Pew Research notes that 71% of adults currently telecommute, versus just one in five prior to the pandemic. While working from your living room has its benefits (who can beat the commute from your bedroom to the couch?), we are also finding that people’s mental health is suffering. In fact, according to a recent study by the National Institute for Health Care Management (NIHCM), 51% of respondents reported declining mental health since the start of COVID-19.

One contributing factor that cannot be overlooked is “Zoom fatigue,” which has a significant impact on our mental and emotional health. According to Dr. Bryan Bruno, therapist at New York-based depression treatment center Mid City TMS, Zoom fatigue is, “when a person uses Zoom, or any other virtual communication platform, too much.” Dr. Bruno cites several factors associated with virtual conferences that lead to Zoom fatigue. “It is triggered by an intense focus on factors other than the information being discussed, the misinterpretation of nonverbal cues, disruptions in the natural flow of conversations, and the emotional toll it takes on your brain to stare at people and yourself up close.”

It might seem banal, but hours of video meetings can negatively impact your focus, productivity, and most of all, your well-being. Dr. Bruno cites constant eye contact and misinterpretation of cues as one of the reasons we have Zoom fatigue. “Zoom calls impact one’s ability to concentrate by causing participants to work harder to decipher nonverbal cues and interpret tones.”

We know that Zoom fatigue is very real, and while we may want to give our eyes (and brain) a break, fear of angering our superiors or worse, getting reprimanded, or even fired can make it feel impossible to turn down Zoom meetings. So what can we do? Michelle Davies, certified career coach and co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Best Ever Life Inc. says this comes up more than we think. “This is such a delicate situation.” Davies continues, “I have had young women come to me asking for guidance on this exact subject.” Luckily for us, Davies shared a few tips to diplomatically navigate the videoconference conversation. Read below to find out.

How to say no to a Zoom meeting:

1. Have conversations beforehand.

Davies suggests calmly approaching both managers and colleagues and letting them know that you would like to not be included in Zoom meetings when necessary. Not everyone needs to speak, so should everyone have to be on camera? “Oftentimes a Zoom meeting is called for the whole team where only the input of one member is greatly needed,” Davies explains.

One of the ways you can do this is by “telling [your managers] your situation and above all, explain to them how you are bordering on [fatigue] due to all these Zoom meetings.” While it might be scary to be vulnerable in the workplace, it’s important to discuss how you’re mentally doing in your role, so your colleagues and managers can provide a helping hand.

2. Be available on other channels.

Another way you can be available to your teammates is by explaining how else you can be reached aside from Zoom calls. For instance, Davies says to, “express how you are available by message throughout the meeting and how you can quickly jump on if needed.” By doing this, you are still completely involved and attentive, which may be one of the reasons employers are leaning so heavily into video conferencing.

3. Suggest a day where you don’t take meetings.

According to Davies, “No meetings Fridays” have replaced “casual Fridays,” in this new digital work environment. Dropping meetings for a day can be good for your mental health and productivity. According to a June 2020 survey by Twingate, 40% out of 1,000 remote employees have experienced mental exhaustion from video calls, so “[having a no-meeting day] allows employees and managers alike to hone in on finishing their tasks before the end of the week,” she explains, which will allow you to rest and become less stressed in the long run.

While we’re still exactly unsure of what the return to work status is like for most people and companies, it’s still worth it to have these conversations with your colleagues and boss(es) to prep for a better work-life balance. Working during a global pandemic, even if you have the luxury of working remotely, can be incredibly taxing. “It is counter-productive to be holding constant meetings for employees,” she shares, “and secondly, it is a breach of the work-life balance while working remotely.”

Whether that means quickly switching off your camera to rest your eyes, or even blocking your own calendar to get work done without the interruption of meetings, there is nothing wrong with taking steps to prevent burnout and combat Zoom fatigue. Your future self will thank you.