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Ergophobia, ergasiophobia or ponophobia is an abnormal and persistent fear of work (manual labor, non-manual labor, etc.) or fear of finding employment. It may be a form of social phobia or performance anxiety.

People with ergophobia experience undue anxiety about the workplace environment even though they realize their fear is irrational. Their fear may actually be a combination of fears, such as fear of failing at assigned tasks, speaking before groups at work (both of which are types of performance anxiety), socializing with co-workers (a type of social phobia), and other fears of emotional, psychological and/or physiological injuries.[1]

The term ergophobia comes from the Greek "ergon" (work) and "phobos" (fear).[2]


A phobia is a psychological condition in which an individual has a persisting fear of situations or objects, disproportionate to the threat they actually pose.[3] Once the fearful individual encounters the situation or object of their phobia, the emotional, cognitive and physical reaction is almost immediate. This condition creates immense distress that stems from the need to constantly be alert and to be able to avoid the triggering source of the phobia. Phobias can be specific to a certain stimulus or general to social situations. The most effective treatment for phobias is exposure therapy.[4]


Ergophobia can manifest itself in somatic symptoms in addition to psychological ones. There have been several studies focusing on burnout among teachers, and it has been found that those experiencing ergophobia performed significantly worse on a physical health index compared to their colleagues.[1][5] Physical symptoms include rapid heartbeat, dry mouth, excessive sweating, general uneasiness, and panic attacks.[1]

History and measurement[edit]

Ergophobia was defined by William Upson in 1905 as “the art of laziness”.[6] The New York Medical Journal claimed to be the first to define this condition, but the publication later found the name had been used by a hospital in New Jersey as early as in the 1860s.[5]  Ergophobia is a corollary of Occupational Burnout, which is thought to be the result of long-term unresolvable job stress. The term “burnout” did not come to be used with regularity until the 1970s in the United States. Freudenberger, for example, used it to describe the phenomenon of physical and emotional exhaustion with associated negative attitudes arising from intense interactions when working with people.[7] Later studies on ergophobia and occupational burnout build upon the existing conception of Freudenberger’s research and found the phenomenon was quite common in a variety of human service occupations. These occupations include health care and mental health care professionals, social welfare workers, lawyers, and business organization employees.[1]

Even though there is no formal diagnosis procedure, the Maslach Burnout Inventory, a series of introspective occupational burnout questions, is used together with Areas of Worklife Survey (AWS) to assess levels of burnout. These tests measure emotional burnout, depersonalization, and personal achievements and are suitable for an individual as well as group assessment.[1]

Clinical assessment[edit]

Ergophobia is not defined as a phobia in the DSM 5 manual, but it may be a subset of performance anxiety. There may be a connection between executive dysfunction and work-related anxiety because there is a known connection between dysfunction and general anxiety disorder. It is unclear which one causes the other.[8]

Similar syndromes[edit]

Generalized Anxiety disorder might be a similar syndrome, in it one experiences uncontrollably elevated levels of anxiety and worries over varying issues and events.[9] As with phobia, the anxiety and individual with Generalized Anxiety Disorder experiences is disproportionate to the actual threat that the events or situations pose. Adults with GAD can feel stressed by work-related concerns regarding everyday tasks, evaluations, and presentations.[9]

Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is characterized by feelings of anxiety caused by social interactions or situations in which the individual can be scrutinized or rejected by others.[10] This anxiety is easily exacerbated by work-related situations such as presentations and professional and friendly social interactions at the workplace.[9]

A similar condition is “Other specified Anxiety Disorder”, in which there is distress and significant levels of anxiety, but not in a manner that fully embodies the diagnostic symptoms of anxiety disorders.[9] This disorder greatly influences performance in social, occupational or other important situations, and as such may seem similar to Ergophobia or occupational burnout.[9]

In culture[edit]

Ergophobia is being displayed and discussed in pop culture as suffering from burnout. Being burnt out is conceptualized as encompassing three components: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment. When people are seen as characteristically “burnt-out”, their attitudes towards others change, becoming more cynical and retracted from normal social dynamics.[1] Specifically, these traits are shown in two parts externally, emotional exhaustion refers to the feeling of being emotionally drained after interacting with other people and depersonalization is expressed in negative attitudes or unsympathetic responses towards other people.[1] When an individual perceives their sense of competence as lesser than their co-workers, or view their intelligence as greater than their colleagues who are being elevated to higher roles, there is a higher chance that their sense of personal accomplishment gets diminished.[1]

With the decline of at first the agricultural, and later manufacturing sectors in the United States, the service industry has come to be the dominant industry in the economy in North America.[11] Currently, 79.45 percent of people in the U.S are employed in the service industry.[11] A service-based economy has the potential to exacerbate emotional exhaustion as there are simply more people employed in this sector. Because burnout or ergophobia is most commonly found in service sector roles, it is easy to see how it is becoming a more prevalent issue in contemporary society.[12]

The more people employed in an environment that is conducive to ergophobia, the greater the number of cases of ergophobia, regardless of changes in the rates reported of ergophobia itself.[13] The changing nature of employer-employee relations has also itself been significantly altered by this evolution to a service-based economy.[14] Performance appraisal systems are now a popular tool within organizations to enhance employee commitment and productivity.[1] Such a system, in which the relationship between employee and boss is much closer, and thus the employee is subsequent to more face-to-face scrutiny which can exacerbate emotional exhaustion among employees and subsequently feelings of ergophobia.[1]

Prevalence of ergophobia and occupational burnout is also increasing, as there is increasing diagnosis of the condition.[1] Performance appraisal systems are now a popular tool within organizations to enhance employee commitment and productivity.[1] Mental health has become a much less taboo subject in recent years, and there is a proliferation of mental health awareness discourses in popular North American culture. An example of such a mental-health-initiatives led by the private sphere, is the Canadian campaign, Bell Let’s Talk. Such worldwide and pervasive initiatives may, however, lead to misdiagnosis.[13] As the fear of work itself is such a general catchall term, many may believe that they suffer from ergophobia when in fact the root issue is a plethora of other mental health issues such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder or social anxiety disorder.[14]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Belcastro, Philip A.; Hays, Leon C. (1984). "Ergophilia . . . ergophobia . . . ergo . . . burnout?". Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. 15 (2): 260–270. doi:10.1037/0735-7028.15.2.260. ISSN 1939-1323.
  2. ^ "Ergo" is also used to form other English words, including "ergometer" (a device that measures the amount of work done by muscles) and "ergonomics" (an applied science that designs interfaces and working environments with the aim of maximizing functionality and improving worker comfort).
  3. ^ Agras, S.; Sylvester, D.; Oliveau, D. (1969). "The epidemiology of common fears and phobia". Comprehensive Psychiatry. 10 (2): 151–156. doi:10.1016/0010-440x(69)90022-4. PMID 5774552.
  4. ^ Wolitzky-Taylor, Kate B.; Horowitz, Jonathan D.; Powers, Mark B.; Telch, Michael J. (July 2008). "Psychological approaches in the treatment of specific phobias: A meta-analysis". Clinical Psychology Review. 28 (6): 1021–1037. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2008.02.007. ISSN 0272-7358. PMID 18410984.
  5. ^ a b Guglielmi, R Sergio; Tatrow, Kristin (March 1998). "Occupational Stress, Burnout, and Health in Teachers: A Methodological and Theoretical Analysis". Review of Educational Research. 68 (1): 61–99. doi:10.3102/00346543068001061. ISSN 0034-6543.
  6. ^ Upson, William Hazlett (1933). Ergophobia (Manuscript). University of Vermont Libraries, Special Collections. Archived from the original on 2018-12-05. Retrieved 2018-12-04.
  7. ^ Freudenberger, Herbert J. (1974-01-01). "Staff Burn-Out". Journal of Social Issues. 30 (1): 159–165. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4560.1974.tb00706.x. ISSN 1540-4560.
  8. ^ Eysenck, M. W.; Derakshan, N.; Santos, R.; Calvo, M. G. (2007). "Anxiety and cognitive performance: attentional control theory". Emotion. 7 (2): 336–53. doi:10.1037/1528-3542.7.2.336. PMID 17516812. S2CID 33462708.
  9. ^ a b c d e Rada, R. E.; Johnson-Leong, C. (2004). "Stress, burnout, anxiety and depression among dentists". The Journal of the American Dental Association. 135 (6): 788–794. doi:10.14219/jada.archive.2004.0279. PMID 15270165. S2CID 1707474.
  10. ^ Pereira-Lima, K.; Loureiro, S. R. (2015). "Burnout, anxiety, depression, and social skills in medical residents". Psychology, Health & Medicine. 20 (3): 353–362. doi:10.1080/13548506.2014.936889. PMID 25030412.
  11. ^ a b Hsu, H. Y.; Chen, S. H.; Yu, H. Y.; Lou, J. H. (2010). "Job stress, achievement motivation and occupational burnout among male nurses". Journal of Advanced Nursing. 66 (7): 1592–1601. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2648.2010.05323.x. PMID 20492017.
  12. ^ Gabris, G. T.; Ihrke, D. M. (2001). "Does performance appraisal contribute to heightened levels of employee burnout?". Public Personnel Management. 30 (2): 157–172. doi:10.1177/009102600103000203.
  13. ^ a b Ahola, Kirsi (2007). Occupational burnout and health. People and Work Research Reports. Helsinki: Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. ISBN 978-951-802-794-5. ISSN 1237-6183.
  14. ^ a b Brown, Michelle; Benson, John (2003). "Rated to exhaustion? Reactions to performance appraisal processes". Industrial Relations. 34 (1): 67–81. doi:10.1111/1468-2338.00259.