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Work aversion

Work aversion, Workplace aversion, or Employment aversion is a psychological behavior, often part of an anxiety disorder, in which the subject intentionally refuses to be gainfully employed at all, or works far less than is necessary in order to meet ones needs [1]. It has not been officially recognized as a disorder, and is not a disease, but rather a symptom of one or more psychiatric disorders. It is estimated that about four to five million people in the United States may be suffering from some form of work aversion, though the exact number is not known [2].

The term work aversion does not refer to immature teens or young adults who "slack off" and fail to seek their first job or perform seriously at a job they obtain. Not all unemployed persons have work aversion. The subject of work aversion is typically an adult who has been previously employed, or who recently graduated from college or trade school, and for some psychological reason, feels turned off by employment. The subject who receives such a label generally has expenses, hence the need for steady employment. But due to medical issues, such as a phobia, s/he does not attempt to work or seek employment, and makes excuses to others for not doing so.



Common excuses made for not being employed include:

  • Inability to find work, even when there are many potential jobs available to the subject. Many subjects, for show, pretend to seek jobs they know they will never receive. This is done by applying for job for which they are knowingly unqualified, filling out applications intentionally poorly, or deliberately giving a bad impression at an interview.
  • Health problems or disabilities that prevents subject from doing any form of work, even when subject is able-bodied and in good health, and others who are more disabled are capable of identical jobs.
  • Non-paying obligations the subject claims s/he has that make him/her unable to have the time to work, such as a hobby, care for one's own child or an elderly parent, volunteer work, education (as in the case of perpetual students), or religious requirements. This is when one's main obligation should be to earn a living.
  • Subject often makes individual complaints about different types of work that become available or are offered. Such complaints may be that it would cause too much physical pain or distress, the hours are impossible, it is too far away, or that the subject is simply not capable of performing that type of work. The excuse for each type of job may differ.

Many subjects suffering from work aversion live with the unrealistic expectation that cash will somehow flow their way. This may be contingent upon:

  • An inheritance, even when there is no inheritance due to the subject any time soon.
  • Winnings from a lottery, sweepstakes, or other forms of gambling, even when the subject is not actively playing any of these, or the odds of winning are very minimal. In the case of pathological gamblers, income is simply contingent upon winning.
  • A generous gift from a sympathetic relative, friend, or non-profit organization
  • A dream job, even when no such job exists, or the subject is not actively seeking one.
  • Success in a business the subject is not actively pursuing or that the subject has pursued but has not been profitable.
  • As in the case of the perpetual student, the hope that a degree will automatically bring money, even without applying for a job.
  • The hope that a hobby or talent the subject has that currently does not pay, such as art, music, or acting, will one day become lucrative.
  • Many sufferers will attempt to get on Social Security Disability. The Social Security Administration's judges are specifically trained to watch out for cases where the applicant may have Workplace Aversion [3]. Unless the underlying cause is impossible or difficult to treat, such applications are generally denied.


The typical view of the subject by others is often laziness. But most persons suffering from work aversion are not lazy in the sense of lacking energy. The reason for failing to work is purely due to a psychological disorder.

Work aversion usually occurs in persons who have previously been employed, and can have a variety of causes. These include:

  • Depression: A person who is suffering from clinical depression, dysthymia, grief, or other similar disorders may simply lack the motivation to work.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder: The subject is more focused on his/her obsessions than his/her need to work, and therefore, will not take out the time to perform a job or seek employment.
  • Panic Disorder: For some, merely finding oneself in a work environment can trigger a panic attack. After such an occurrence, many are reluctant to seek further employment.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder: The subject has suffered from a traumatic experience at an earlier job. This may be a physical injury suffered on the job, a scary event that occurred while at work (such as a robbery of the place of employment), severe harassment or bullying from fellow employees, or abuse from one's boss or employer.
  • Abrupt Termination: A former employee who was fired or laid off from an earlier job may be fearful of seeking future employment on the basis that such rejection may recur again.
  • Phobia: Some persons are simply phobic of the workplace.


Since the term work aversion only applies to one with the need to earn income, complications will inevitably arise from lacking the money the subject needs from employment. These may include:

  • Loss of assets
  • Loss of money in a get-rich-quick scheme the subject enters out of desperation
  • Debt and credit problems
  • Self-neglect. This may include malnourishment, since the subject may be unable to afford a sufficient diet, or neglect of one's personal appearance or hygiene in ways that may cost the subject money.
  • Neglect of dependents, such as spouse and children, who one is expected to support.
  • Neglect of personal belongings, such as one's home, car, or other possessions requiring maintenance, or loss of services that require payment of a monthly bill, such as utilities, phone service, insurance.
  • Strained relations with family and friends, especically those who are forced to support the unemployed subject, or those who otherwise expect the subject to have money or items of value.
  • Strained marriage, when financial problems hurt marriage
  • Reduced socialization, especially in cases where the subject is in need of money to support such interaction.
  • Legal problems, when subject turns to law-breaking to obtain cost of living
  • Homelessness, in most severe cases

Persons suffering from work aversion in need of money will often resort to extreme measures in order to obtain the funding needed to support themselves. These include:

  • Draining ones savings, and cashing out bonds and other stored funds to which the subject has access.
  • Racking up large amounts of debt and maxing out on credit cards, cashing out equity in one's home or other real property, or pawning one's valuables.
  • Begging money from family or friends.
  • Seeking public assistance, such as food stamps, and grants from private or religious organizations.
  • Criminal activity, such as embezzlement or check fraud.


Treating work aversion involves treating the underlying psychological cause of the disorder, which often requires diagnostic testing. Often, this cause cannot be easily identified because the subject frequently has little or no self-recognition of the problem, lacks funding needed for diagnosis, and has little or no willpower to seek treatment.

Methods of treatment for the underlying disorder include psychotherapy, counseling, medication, or some more unusual forms of treatment. Depending on the cause, lengths of treatment and success rates may vary. While some mild cases of work aversion may subside naturally over time without any treatment, other more severe cases may be incurable. These subjects are often considered candidates for Social Security Disability.

Sometimes, environmental changes may help cure the disorder. These may include a career change or overhaul, a move to a new city or region, or self-employment.

Sometimes, a subject may be able to find partial relief from a certain type of job or job environment where s/he feels comfortable. But, if the subject loses such a job, finding a replacement could be increasingly troublesome, and symptoms may reappear and worsen.

If a subject is receiving funding for his/her expenses from a relative, friend, or other source, cutting off the funding does not motivate the subject to obtain employment, and will not improve this condition. A relative or friend who wants to help a subject should encourage him/her to seek treatment for the underlying cause.

Many career couselors have turned to a therapy they identify as work-hardening. This means they put the person to work for a brief period of time in the first week, such as two hours per day. In the following week, they increase it to four hours per day. The amount of work increases each week until it becomes full-time, with the client being willing. This sometimes has proven to be successful.

Further reading

  • The Abolition of Work and Other Myths, Neala Schleuning, (Summer, 1995)

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Work_aversion". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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