Ergophobia: Is there a fear of work?

To live in the westernized society you need money and the most common way to get it is to work.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
25 May 2023 Thursday 22:22
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Ergophobia: Is there a fear of work?

To live in the westernized society you need money and the most common way to get it is to work. Developing a job takes up half the waking time of an adult. And that is why any problem related to work will therefore be quite disruptive. More, if the labor problems are continuous.

Ergophobia is the established term to define work phobia -from the Greek ergon, translated in a simplified way as "work"-, understood as the irrational and disproportionate fear of something. The symptoms that accompany a phobia include, in addition to having a very bad time in the presence of what generates the fear, increased heart rate, sweating, tremors, a feeling of anguish or difficulty breathing. What is expected is that the person avoids the object of his phobia, although it is not always easy.

A typical phobia is the fear of flying. Anyone who has never suffered an accident or experienced it up close should not have to refuse to travel by plane. Statistically it is much safer than, for example, the car and the travel process is not unbearable or painful, no matter how little space there is in the tourist seats. But life is not statistics nor are sensations logical at times.

The same can be applied to work: when there is no reason to be afraid or have a very bad time when going to the place where the job is carried out or when working, but that emotion occurs, one could speak of ergophobia. It seems, however, that this term is more of an established label to refer to other problems that would be outside the world of phobias.

Dolors Liria, vice dean of the Official College of Psychology of Catalonia and director of Menta, a professional and organizational health consultancy, does not deny that someone can, in fact, suffer from a work phobia, but affirms that she has never dealt with a case of ergophobia in her years as an expert psychologist in this field.

"Whether it's work or anything else, if the symptoms are phobic, the diagnosis is phobia, but not all people who have an aversion to going to work can be diagnosed with a phobia," says Liria. "I think that when a fear of work appears, ergophobia represents the minimum of cases," he adds

So much so that there is no psychopathological category as such in the classification of mental disorders. The scientific production on the subject is also scarce despite the fact that there were already allusions to the term in the early years of the last century. At that time, ergophobia was defined as a new disease that appeared in men who "preferred lazing around" to working.

For both Liria and Óscar Ruiz, belonging to the Occupational Health working group of the Official College of Psychology of Madrid, it is more plausible that the aversion to work has to do with something that is also happening in the organization and not only in the person.

“If one falls into a hostile, aggressor work environment, it is likely that it will become a trigger for harm,” says Ruiz. The psychologist talks about psychosocial risks at work and gives specific examples: contradictory orders from superior managers, training not adapted to changes or little training, as well as little perception of control. At the top are workplace harassment practices.

This is the case of Laura, fictitious name. She is in charge of the Administration and Finance Department of a foreign company. Her work has taken her to the extreme of feeling continuous "panic" and not being able to sleep because of it. “I feel stress that consumes me excessively, so it affects the rest of my personal life because I don't have energy,” she says.

Laura explains that tasks that are the responsibility of another department are required of her, which implies notions of programming, knowledge that does not fall within her academic training and experience. Her company has not formed her either. In the end, she perceives that there are very high expectations of her, which she sees that she does not reach and suffers from the uncertainty of whether she will continue to maintain her position. They have even told her that she does not organize herself well, although there are no complaints regarding the resolution of her tasks. The result is that her work "becomes quite obsessive" and she makes up for her alleged failings "with utter perfection."

Something that, for her, aligns the situation is that it works remotely, which complicates communication, especially with her superior, and prevents the creation of "a work network, a closeness as can occur in person." Only three times a year they organize meetings with the whole company in which they carry out mandatory socializing activities over several days, something that she does not consider work and with which she is not comfortable.

“We went from zero to 100 too fast. There is no natural progression in building trust,” she says. And he adds that he feels that "they are wanting to take my person in the company to a more private sphere and I do not want the company to cross that barrier."

For Óscar Ruiz, it is necessary to monitor and measure work contexts in relation to mental health and avoid situations like Laura's. The psychologist cites Law 31/1995 on occupational risk prevention that "determines the need to adapt work environments to the personal situation and vulnerability of workers, therefore, to diseases that work performance can aggravate, or to diseases that They've already debuted."

As for the person's action, the question one must ask oneself, according to Dolors Liria, is what exactly anguishes them, and how much of it has to do with their own work or the company and how much with the way they are experiencing it .

If the weight falls on the latter and there are activities that generate discomfort, one option is to address these issues in oneself or consider whether the professional work and the work environment fit with your possibilities "because not all of us can do the same or be in the same same sites”.

The limit for her is: "If you feel fear or aversion to going to work, or any other discomfort within it, and this creates a limitation for the achievement of your tasks and in your life, at that moment is when you have to ask a professional for help. The professional can be a psychologist, but also an expert in the legal field if a workplace context of harassment is considered.

Laura, for example, goes to a psychologist to work on what is in her power, such as being able to reject a workload when she considers that it is not within her competence or facing presentations in front of her colleagues, which she lives with anguish. .