What is fear of work?

Ergophobia: the irrational fear of work 

At a time when the economic crisis and unemployment rates are at their highest, it is not clear that there are so many ergophobes. Ergophobia is an intense irrational fear of work to the extent that it prevents sufferers from working. The fear of not being able to cope with the tasks assigned, of speaking in public or of having to socialise with office colleagues is frequently found in the discourse of ergophobes. Their suffering must be addressed before burn-out or depression sets in.

Does the thought of looking for a job or getting back to work make you anxious?

Are you convinced that whatever you do will lead to failure? You probably suffer from a psychological disorder called “ergophobia“. Like any other phobia, this fear of work can drive you crazy. This phobia often refers to a lack of professional fulfilment or a bad atmosphere at work. You find yourself unable to work because your body is constantly under tension, you fear losing control and not being able to cope with a situation.

There are many causes of work phobia

They depend partly on your personal history. Lack of self-confidence, not feeling up to the demands, bad experiences in the past, large amounts of work, fear of being removed from your job… are all factors that can cause your ergophobia. All this ‘blocks’ you, especially when you have to maintain your job or find a new one. Your emotions are then systematically negative because they are the cause of your unconscious fear.

It is also possible that your work phobia may have started in childhood. This is often the case if one of your parents had a similar phobia. His or her negative words, behaviours and attitudes towards work were then unintentionally instilled in you throughout your childhood. If you have grown up imitating your parent’s behavioural pattern, then it is only natural that you will follow the same patterns. Ergophobia can be learned and passed on in this way, gradually, over the years.

Stress at work as a primary risk factor

Although individual causes of ergophobia can be found, the organisation of work often bears a major responsibility for the appearance and development of this disorder. Indeed, employees are very often confronted with situations that can be very stressful at work for a long time. 

To put it simply, stress is the result of the ever-increasing and demanding demands of the workplace to which the individual cannot respond because the resources made available by the organisation are not sufficient. These shortcomings in terms of resources are of various kinds, such as unsuitable work tools, but also a lack of support from the hierarchy or imposed and exacerbated competition between employees, which constitute significant obstacles in the daily activity and which end up considerably altering the health of workers. 

We then see the emergence in professional environments of maladaptive behaviours encouraged paradoxically by the organisation, such as overcommitment to work, which can lead to workaholism – the development of a real addiction to work, which causes an inability to disconnect from one’s professional tasks, but also a withdrawal from other areas of life, particularly family and personal life. Competition between employees also creates a tense climate that greatly complicates social relations and encourages the occurrence of recurrent conflicts that can lead to harassment.  

As a result of all these factors, you are likely to experience various forms of psychological violence at work, which, if repeated over longer or shorter periods of time, expose you to various disorders such as burnout or ergophobia.

Fear of work can also be the consequence of a moral or physical trauma

This may be the case if, for example, you have been the victim of a serious accident at work, or if you have been the target of insulting and/or humiliating remarks. Of course, we do not all react in the same way to these situations. If you have an anxious temperament, are shy and find it difficult to assert yourself, you are certainly more likely than others to react unfavourably to these threats and to develop ergophobia in the long run. It is not unusual for several other phobias to be combined with this one.  This ergophobia is often a combination of several other phobias, such as social phobia (fear of the gaze of others, of speaking in public and of being judged), glossophobia (fear of speaking in public) and atychiphobia (fear of failure).

In all cases, if you suffer from this fear of work, you feel that you are blocked, either from continuing your professional activity or from starting it. This phobia affects everyone, from young graduates to more experienced people, but also those who have been unemployed for some time.


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