Do you suffer from fear of work?

Work represents a vital issue for the balance of every human being. In psychology, we even talk about the centrality of work to evoke the “central” place that we give to work in our lives. Being afraid of work is a significant problem that should not be taken lightly.

Bureau ordinateur - peur du travail

1. What is the fear of work?

The term ergophobia refers to the fear of work. It is an irrational and intense fear that prevents you from working normally. It is characterized by the fear of not being up to the tasks assigned, of speaking in public or of interacting with colleagues and management. In fact, it prevents any professional development and is the cause of great suffering. You often find yourself stigmatized at work and even outside of it. It is not uncommon for work phobia to be accompanied by panic disorder. Given the place attributed to work in our lives, it constitutes a considerable obstacle to well-being and quality of life.

2. The sources of fear of work

Ergophobia is usually rooted in the individual’s personal history. A lack of self-confidence, anxious tendencies and negative experiences at work can combine to develop a more or less severe form of work phobia.

The organization of the work can also play a role in the appearance of the phobia. In fact, an excessive workload, a pressurizing management or recurrent impossible demands contribute to create a degraded professional context that the employee will try to avoid in order to preserve himself. If the situation persists, you will tend to associate work as a whole with the negative emotions you feel and thus develop a real fear of work.

Ergophobia can develop as a result of a traumatic experience related to work.  If you have had a serious accident at work or have been harassed, it will be extremely difficult to return to the place where the events took place. The phobia will then take a form similar to that of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In fact, we often find a combination of several disorders such as social phobia (fear of the gaze of others, of expressing oneself in public and of feeling judged), glossophobia (fear of speaking in public) and atychiphobia (fear of failure) in the fear of work.

3. The consequences of fear of work

At the professional level, you are very often the object of strong criticism by your colleagues and hierarchical managers. The problems of absenteeism and isolation, which are actually avoidance behaviors, but also the negative impact on your performance, mean that you can be sidelined in the activity. This situation is the cause of great suffering. If you are not currently employed, ergophobia hinders any attempt to find a job, which tends to keep you in difficulty and sometimes even precariousness.

Relationships with relatives are also very complicated because they often do not understand the situation. Especially since it can culminate in a state of partial or total dependence on them which makes interactions even more tense.

Fighting against this fear and its manifestations is therefore extremely costly from a health point of view. Consequently, if the relationship to work is not alleviated with the help of a professional, ergophobia can develop into burnout or depression.


4. Signs of fear of work

Ergophobia is directly linked to work and does not only affect this field. Belonging to the family of anxiety disorders, it can trigger panic attacks in the most severe cases. These are specific situations that you are particularly afraid of, such as arriving late, making mistakes or feeling a form of hierarchical pressure. When confronted with this, you feel a sense of oppression and the characteristic acceleration of your heart rate and breathing rate, synonymous with great distress.

Changes in your behaviour outside of work can also identify the insidious development of ergophobia. Regularly disturbed sleep, especially when accompanied by ruminations about the working day, is a good indicator that should not be overlooked. The appearance of eating disorders or abnormal irritability should also prompt you to approach professionals, possibly evoking symptoms of ergophobia.

5. What solutions to the fear of work?

There are many different ways of dealing with ergophobia, depending on its form and severity. If you are able to continue your professional activity, but it still generates a deep and continuous discomfort, then you can consult an occupational psychologist or a specialist in professional support. This will be an opportunity for in-depth reflection, based on scientifically validated methods, on the meaning you wish to give to your professional life and the adaptations to be implemented to achieve this.

If the disturbances caused by the anxiety-provoking situation are so great that they threaten your continued employment or your return to work, cognitive-behavioral therapies (CBT) are nowadays the most appropriate. They will allow you to confront the situations that generate the most anxiety for you and that block you in your daily life. Gradually, you will relearn not to be afraid of these moments and you will find an adapted behavior in work situations. To do this, virtual reality exposure constitutes a major contribution through immersion in secure environments and free from the inherent stakes of the real work environment. It is an effective way to practice, under the guidance of a therapist, the management of emotions in order to regain a peaceful relationship with work.