I would say a milestone of our lives is getting our first job or perhaps any job, like right after we graduate college or university. These events can represent independence, a way for us to begin making our own path in life, separate from our loved ones. While working has its positive and negatives, we generally don’t mind it nor do we have an eversion to it. For some, working or getting a job is not exciting or appealing at all. Instead, it is actually terrifying, and not the type of terrifying that you shove aside and push through, but so scary that getting a job is simply not doable.
The fear of working or going to work is known as Ergophobia. Due to this phobia not being a specific and singular object or stimuli, the fear of working can be due to a handful of situations or experiences that are typical in the workplace.
Most of the time, individuals with this phobia have a debilitating fear of things such as responsibilities/tasks involved with work or social relationships in the workplace. In regard to tasks, individuals may fear failure which creates extreme anxiety. Similarly, fearing the social interactions common in one’s workplace may also be related to embarrassing or humiliating oneself.
While Ergophobia is defined and known, it is not seen in the DSM-5 as a disorder. Rather individuals diagnosed with this phobia are diagnosed with a “Specific Phobia” which encompasses a number of phobias categorized into 5 categories (i.e., animals, natural environment, blood-injection-injury, situational, or other). As you may have guessed, Ergophobia falls into the situational category.
Lastly, to be diagnosed with Ergophobia an individual must experience persistent symptoms for no less than six months. Not only are symptoms a part of the criteria to be diagnosed with this phobia, other behavioral or psychological disorders cannot be present as the fear being experienced could be related to that diagnosis and does not fully qualify as a phobia.
What are the symptoms of Ergophobia?
Symptoms related to Ergophobia can be broad and span across a number of areas as well as differ from individual to individual. In regard to the areas in which symptoms can present themselves, psychologists have identified three: psychological, physical, and behavioral. Similar to any health diagnosis, symptoms don’t have to all be present nor will they most likely be present, but unlike a common health diagnosis symptoms for Ergophobia must be present for a minimum of 6 months in order to be diagnosed.
The first area of symptoms are those related to psychology such as feelings of anxiety or the experience of panic attacks as a result of being exposed to the negative stimuli. Additionally, irrational cognitions or thoughts about work will be present such as the association between work and humiliation, fear, or even a pressing sense of doom. For example, the fear of work, as mentioned earlier in the article could be tied to one’s perception or fear of humiliation, inability to successfully complete work thus even the thought of going to work or having a job can create immense panic.
Another type of symptom that can be experienced by individuals with this phobia include physical reactions. Like the symptoms experience when stressed, scared, or even incredibly worried individuals may also demonstrate similar responses. Specifically, physical symptoms can include sweating, racing heart, stomach pains, and difficulty catching one’s breath.
Lastly, behavioral symptoms can also be present and generally look like avoidant behaviors. As in the name, avoidant behaviors are behaviors in which the individual keeps clear of the distressing situation such as not going to work or getting out of work-related situations (e.g., work parties). Other behaviors which perhaps are not as obvious can include beginning to work later in life compared to their peers or what is typical at a certain age. Unfortunately, it is fairly common today to keep hidden our anxieties, our fears, and so as an outsider these behaviors may initially be perceived as strange or even lazy, but they could be due to this phobia.
What causes Ergophobia?
As with many psychological and health diagnosis, we typically want to know the how or the why. How does one development Ergophobia or why does one have Ergophobia? The answer isn’t simple because like any other psychological disorder there are a number of factors or variables that can cause or have an effect on an individual. Psychologist have found a couple of areas or factors which cause and/or increase the likelihood for one to develop Ergophobia. Additionally, psychologist have argued that the combination of some of these factors can also create a larger influence whether or not someone develops this phobia.
Firstly, genetics or familial history can have a large influence on the development of Ergophobia much like it does with other psychological disorder as well as health disorders. Unlike some disorders, mostly physiological disorders, there is no single gene that can be tied to this phobia nor any other phobia rather genes related to anxiety can be present in an individual. These genes related to anxiety or even stress is then passed down making an individual more likely to develop Ergophobia.
Another important factor that can play a large part in causing or developing Ergophobia is one’s environment such as home life, school, and community. In general, those who are in our inner circles are even outer circles (i.e., community, society) can impact the things we believe and/or our behaviors and as such some of these circles can foster behaviors or fears in this case. The most obvious environment that can have a lasting impact and heavily influence an individual is one’s home. Our parents and close family shape who we are and even who we can become through their own behaviors which we are exposed to at a very young age and for a long period time. For example, anxious or highly stressed parents can unconsciously or consciously pass on behaviors or cognitions through their interactions with their children. With Ergophobia perhaps being continuously exposed to highly stressed and overworked parents instills a deep-rooted fear for work thus developing the phobia.
How to cope and treat Ergophobia?
There are a handful of ways to cope and treat phobias such as Ergophobia. Here we will discuss two, but treatment is not a one-size fits all nor does it have to only be a single method. Rather, in most cases, a combination of treatments such as therapies and/or medications can create the most effective and lasting effects.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
This form of therapy is typically the most common and historically effect form of therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, CBT, is a form of treatment which identifies negative thought patterns, related to the fear inducing stimuli, with the assistance of a licensed clinician. Then together, the client and the clinician work together to begin unpacking the cognitions associated to these thought patterns with the final step being changing the negative cognitions to neutral or positive ones.
Additionally, another form of treatment includes exposure therapy which is exactly what it sounds like. With this treatment, individuals work with trained licensed clinicians on overcoming one’s fear of work through gradual exposure. In order to refrain from causing immense distress, exposure is done in stages with the first stages being the least distressing (e.g., images of an office or work environment, co-workers speaking to one another in the lounge) to the most distressing form ending with in-person confrontation of the feared stimuli.