Fear of work, also known as ergophobia, is often a combination of several other fears and anxiety issues, making its prevalence in a given population difficult to determine. It is often exhibited in mild forms, such as a feeling of dread when heading towards the workplace. A full-fledged fear of work is very rare and can be debilitating. In such cases, the individual prefers to maintain a sedentary lifestyle rather than a productive one, avoiding any and all forms of work.
The external causes of a fear of work are usually comprised of a variety of social phobias. These fears pertain to different characteristics of the workplace, rather than the work itself. Someone with a fear of work, for example, might feel withdrawn from a new workplace because of a preexisting fear of strangers. Others may be fearful of social situations, or even people in general.
Individuals with ergophobia might also find that their fear comes from specific items in the workplace, such as computers and other appliances. In some cases, a fear of work might develop from a form of claustrophobia, with the tight confines of a work cubicle causing much distress. Jobs in specialized environments can trigger fears as well, such as high-rise construction sites in individuals with a fear of heights or falling.
A fear of work might also be the result of more internal issues. Atychiphobia, a fear of failure, often contributes to the development of ergophobia. Severe performance anxiety, on the other hand, can make work unbearable for those who feel that whatever tasks they accomplish yield inadequate results. Some individuals can suffer from a fear of making decisions, making it virtually impossible to perform at their occupations.
Several of these fears eventually develop into a fear of work through the patient's thought associations. Individuals with an intense fear of a certain object or idea will make mental connections between their fears and other items, especially if the two are often perceived together. It is not uncommon for people who fear social situations in the workplace to associate people with work, making them fear working itself.
In extremely rare cases, people fear the act of working or accomplishing something. For these individuals, it is the very act of functioning that causes massive amounts of distress. These cases are often the most difficult to treat, as there are no smaller phobias psychiatrists can work on to break down the larger, more serious ergophobia.