Unless you’re a millionaire, we all need to work to get by in life. It’s what puts the meals on the table and the clothes on our back. Work can be a dream or a means to an end, but there’s one common thread – we all do it. For some though, going to work can feel a bit scarier than just worrying about big meetings or getting a side-eye from your boss for being a bit late once in a while. For these people, going to work is an ordeal with real, physical symptoms.

Ergophobia is the fear of going to work. For those who suffer from it, this fear is persistent and leads to symptoms of anxiety (heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, chest pain, numbness/tingling sensations, dry mouth, dizziness, excessive sweating, nausea which can escalate into a full-blown panic attack.


What Does It Look Like?

The scenarios you may face if you’re struggling with ergophobia could be the following:

#1 Feeling sick and nauseous each day before leaving for work, or finding that all of your thoughts revolve around work

#2 Feeling anxiety about social occasions, whether that’s mixing with your colleagues at the pub, or giving a presentation

#3 Purposely trying not to be promoted or move on in your career because you fear the responsibility and further involvement at work.

We spoke to Victoria McLean, CEO & founder of City CV, the UK’s leading career consultancy and outplacement services firm to help us when we have a debilitating fear about our workplace environment or about finding work.


Some Fear of Work Is Normal

The first thing anyone on our career coaching team will stress is that ergophobia is highly complex and individual. At some point, we’ve all experienced some level of anxiety at work; that’s normal.

In fact, we’re seeing this more frequently. That may be due to specific COVID-19 related fears. Many people have become fearful of going back to work due to the risk of becoming infected or they have concerns over their employer’s approach to infection control.

There’s obviously been a huge spike in redundancies this year. If that’s happened to you and your employer didn’t provide adequate outplacement support, it’s perhaps not surprising you’re feeling lost and overwhelmed. We also help many clients who are extremely anxious about returning to the workplace after a career gap. They may have taken time out due to mental or physical health issues or because they’ve been focussed on their family or other caring responsibilities.


Victoria believes that answering these three questions can help you overcome your workplace fears:

#1 What is making me fearful? 

Sometimes we can feel so overwhelmed that pinpointing exactly what is making us fearful is challenging. Many clients come to us with a combination of performance anxieties or social phobias. For example, we help lots of people with common workplace fears, such as fear of public speaking (glossophobia) or fear of failure (atychiphobia).

Anxiety around specific and highly stressful situations, such as interviews, salary negotiations or leading a team for the first time, is also extremely common. But, they can all be alleviated with a supportive coach. We’ve helped many anxious people gain the confidence to return to work, get promoted or accept fantastic job offers – and to thrive and continue their personal and professional development once in their new role.

#2 Why do I feel this way?

It helps to be able to put your finger on the source of your fear. Some people recall going to pieces delivering a presentation at school, for example. Others may have had a particularly traumatic (and totally unfair) interview experience. These experiences can leave you feeling broken, de-motivated and full of self-doubt but understanding the root cause of your fear helps you to be kinder to yourself and accept that it’s not your fault.

#3 Who can help me?

When we feel fear it’s natural to want to just stay safe and avoid that situation. But, I believe with the right support, it is possible to overcome fears that are blocking you from achieving your career goals. Coaching sessions give you the space to reflect on your experiences, they help you identify how unhelpful thinking may be reinforcing limiting beliefs and they can give you the confidence, direction and coping strategies you need to overcome your fears.

We spend two-thirds of our waking lives at work; I think we owe it to ourselves to make sure it’s a rewarding experience, both personally and financially.

You can connect with Victoria on LinkedIn here.

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