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Slack fatigue causes employees to disengage or feel burnt out. Here’s why Slack fatigue happens and the best ways to proactively prevent it in your organisation.
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You'd be hard-pressed to find a remote company that doesn’t use Slack nowadays. It’s for good reason—Slack has made online communication easy and convenient. It’s become the place where most internal company conversations happen, making it a huge shaper of company culture. That’s the happy side of the story.
But like all good stories, this one also has a dark side.
And when it comes to Slack, the dark side is that Slack can easily become exhausting, overwhelming, and addictive. Although it’s often unexpected, Slack’s tendrils have grabbed such a tight hold on many remote workers’ lives that they are now dealing with Slack fatigue.
Slack fatigue is the feeling of being constantly exhausted, drained, or overwhelmed by Slack notifications.
Slack fatigue often starts small, driven by an ever-increasing number of channels and DMs you’re participating in. When the race to stay on top of notifications becomes a regular part of your work day, you’re approaching the danger zone. And once you’ve become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of communication and are stressed out by each new notification—or you just give up altogether—you’ve officially become fatigued.
Slack fatigue is often made worse by some level of addiction. We all know that most apps are designed to be addicting, but work apps like Slack sometimes get overlooked.
You’re probably dealing with Slack addiction if you tend to open Slack on autopilot every time you use your phone. Another warning sign is if you find yourself reading Slack during meetings, during your lunch break, in the evenings, or on days off.
When you can’t disconnect from Slack, it’s like you can’t leave the office. No wonder you’re dealing with employee burnout.
Slack and Zoom are two main tools that have become a standard part of the remote workplace, so it’s natural that they often get compared.
“Zoom fatigue” was first coined at the beginning of the COVID pandemic. As many companies were forced to go remote very quickly, employees found their calendars shifted from tons of in-person meetings to nonstop Zoom calls. This constant need to be on camera and engaged led to feelings of exhaustion and fatigue for many workers.
The effects of Zoom fatigue are comparable to Slack fatigue. Both are associated with a sense of exhaustion at the end of a work day. They’re closely linked in many ways. And unfortunately, when companies try to combat Zoom fatigue, one of the consequences is that employees often end up spending more time on Slack (or vice-versa).
The main difference between Slack and Zoom fatigue lies in the cause. For Zoom fatigue, part of the problem is the medium itself. Video calls are just close enough to face-to-face conversations that it’s easy to assume they require the same effort of employees, but that’s simply not true. Video calls require more of employees, leading to people feeling overwhelmed by non-verbal cues, staring at other people’s faces for unnaturally long periods, and becoming overly concerned with their own facial expressions.
Slack fatigue is different. Most of the causes for Slack fatigue stem from how people use Slack, rather than from an inherent problem with the chat medium itself.
First, let’s just acknowledge that Slack is a fantastic tool. It’s transformed communication for thousands of businesses and millions of users.
The larger the flow of communication, though, the more exhausting it can be. Slack usage is intense:
Slack published these numbers in 2019. Given the pandemic’s impact on many companies and Slack’s growth trajectory, today’s numbers are likely much higher.
Here’s what that usage often looks like.
Jason Fried, CEO of 37signals, once called the green dot that denotes if you’re online “the presence prison.” When your primary communication tool always displays whether you’re currently online or not, you subconsciously stress out about how many hours you spend online. That’s even worse if synchronous communication is your company’s default.
Appearing online on Slack doesn’t translate to productivity. Being chained to your computer just to give the impression that you’re being productive is a sure way to get Slack fatigue.
It’s so easy to create a state of overcommunication on Slack.
One of Slack’s big selling points is its ease of use. Depending on how large your team or company is, there’s probably a ridiculous number of conversations happening at any given time on Slack. The more engaged people are, the more often this will happen.
Having a lot of open channels is great for transparency, but the impact is that people will feel the urge to participate and chime in, even when the topic isn’t that important or relevant to them.
The result? Endless Slack threads in which people spend more time talking about doing work than they spend doing actual work.
Overcommunication is a symptom of synchronous work.
Many companies are so used to working synchronously that they’ll maintain that norm, even after shifting to remote work. There are many problems with relying on that approach when using Slack:
Conversations can move extremely fast when multiple people are chatting simultaneously. It’s easier to slow down when you see that only one other person is typing, so you can wait for them to finish their thought. When that “Several people are typing…” message appears on Slack, everyone becomes more frantic.
Why does that matter?
It’s much more likely to result in a series of quick jabs—short, one-line messages that only express part of a thought. This makes it harder for everyone else to keep up and engage with what everyone’s saying. Anyone who takes the time to think about the issue deeply and write up a more coherent, thoughtful—and typically longer—comment will likely be skipped over.
That’s a high-stress Slack environment. If this is the case at your company, you’ll eventually see people start disengaging from conversations because it’s too exhausting to participate.
Synchronous meetings can be great (seriously, sometimes they can be!) because:
Compare that to Slack.
No one perceives Slack in the same way. The discussion is rarely “organized” by any person; it just happens organically. Organic conversations are great sometimes, but they often meander in all kinds of directions.
The end result is endless conversations that go in many different directions. You start talking about one topic, only to find that an hour later you’re talking about something completely different.
Use this way, Slack becomes a considerable time-sink and a huge distraction.
If you aren’t already working on burnout prevention, assessing your company’s Slack usage is a good place to start. That’s because Slack fatigue can often be a symptom of a much larger problem, like unhealthy working norms or unclear expectations. If Slack fatigue is occurring due to burnout, you’ll notice it manifesting in other ways, such as reduced productivity or lower overall engagement.
There’s good news though.
Since Slack fatigue is caused mainly by how you use Slack, some minor changes can have a significant impact.
A great way to start overcoming Slack fatigue is to make Slack an environment where your team is comfortable being vulnerable.
Building psychological safety makes it easier for people to speak up when conversations get too off track or overwhelming. It empowers your team to discuss any issues they have with Slack and suggest solutions for them.
Kona is the easiest way to build psychological safety on a remote team. It all happens through short, daily check-ins, right within Slack. By asking each team member to check in and share how they’re feeling every day, you’ll create an organizational habit of being vulnerable. You’ll also establish more meaningful relationships and create more empathy across your team.
While some people find a high volume of channels overwhelming, creating dedicated channels for different types of conversations is still the best way to segment and organize what’s happening in Slack.|
You can create channel-specific rules, so your team is clear on what’s required of them. Be vocal about which channels are required and which are optional, and do your best to keep relevant conversations in the right channels.
You can also control who’s participating by inviting people to channels only when they’re needed there.
Your environment in Slack strongly influences your workplace culture. That’s why you should engage with Slack as an extension of your culture.
If you want deep, thoughtful conversations, don’t write quick jabs. Take time to think about what you want to say and properly craft your thoughts. When messages get long, formatting is your best friend. Use formatting features like bullet points and lists—the same way you would if you were writing elsewhere.
If you’re a leader who wants your people to cultivate a healthy relationship with Slack, don’t participate in an ASAP culture. Lead by example, and make sure you’re not checking Slack when you aren’t working or are in meetings. Reply when you have time and can engage properly.
The big rule of thumb for every type of software you use is this: make your tools work for you.
Slack has an endless number of features that you can use to tailor your team’s experience. Some of these happen at the workspace or channel level, while others are up to the individual. You can group channels, mute them, schedule messages, set reminders, star messages, automatically mark channels as read, and so on. You can also restrict your usage by disabling your notifications so you’re unreachable when you need to do some deep work.
Be ruthless about protecting your time and focus and your likelihood of suffering from Slack fatigue will significantly decrease.
It’s possible to maximize the positive aspects of Slack while also reducing the risk of Slack fatigue. Using Slack in the ways that work best for you and your team will create a happier and healthier working environment.
Adding Kona to your workspace is a simple addition that will enable you to build better teams and cultivate employee engagement right within Slack. Get started for free today!