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Work aversion (alt. aversion to work) is the state of being turned off by working or being employed, or the extreme preference of leisure as opposed to work[1]. It can be attributed to laziness, boredom, or burnout[2][3]. As the majority of people work out of necessity rather than pleasure[4], most underacheivers suffer from some work aversion[5][6].

Work aversion can be caused by an anxiety disorder, especially chronic social anxiety problems or may stem from other mental disorders, in which the subject intentionally refuses to be gainfully employed at all, or works far less than is necessary in order to meet one's monetary needs.[7] It 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.[8]

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. It also does not automatically signify the lack of a work ethic. 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.



Symptoms of work aversion can include:

  • If employed, is earning barely or less than enough income to pay one's bills, even when opportunities exist to earn additional income. Many such people will work part time
  • Performing poorly at existing employment
  • If unemployed, exhibiting a lack of enthusiasm at searching for employment. This often includes occasionally applying for a job for show.
  • When questioned by others about not working, making excuses to avoid work. 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 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.
  • Living with unrealistic expectations that unearned cash will somehow flow one's 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 when one is not actively playing any of these or the odds of winning are very minimal), generosity from relatives, friends, or non-profit organizations, a dream job that does not exist or is not actively being sought, success in a business venture that is not profitable or not even being pursued, the hope that a hobby or talent such as art, music, or acting will one day become lucrative, or with perpetual students, the hope that a degree will automatically bring money, even without applying for a job.
  • Many will attempt to get on a Social Welfare Program, such as Social Security Disability (in the United States). These programs generally frown upon awarding benefits to those suffering from work aversion[9]. The Social Security Administration's examiners and judges are specifically trained to watch out for cases where the applicant may have Workplace Aversion. Unless the underlying cause is impossible or difficult to treat, such applications are generally denied. (see Disability Determination Services)


Work aversion can be triggered by having a lower income, and therefore having to work harder to pay for one's expenses[10].

Aversion to work is triggered by the parts of the brain that cause nausea and discomfort[11].

The typical view of people with work aversion in the eyes of others is often laziness or the lack of a work ethic[12]. But most persons suffering from work aversion are undergoing a psychological disorder that has not been treated or for which treatment has been unsuccessful.

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

  • Boredom with work[13]. Holding a boring job early in life can lead to the impression later that all work is boring[14].
  • Depression: A person who is suffering from clinical depression, dysthymia, grief, or other similar disorders may lack the motivation to work.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder: Due to neurological dysfunction, the person becomes preoccupied with anxiety-based obsessions, and performs compulsive behaviors in order to cope with their anxiety. They are therefore unable to redirect their attention toward a job or employment search.
  • 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 person 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.
  • Autism: Some inborn conditions, such as some forms of autism, may lead to work aversion[15]
  • Aversion to hierarchy: Some persons refuse to subject themselves to rules imposed by others higher in the capitalist social hierarchy, such as managers, and may even dislike running a business because that would require them to be subjected to rules imposed by the government or the tax authorities. This aversion may be due to politics (eg anarchism) or a psychological phobia. For those whose hierarchy aversion is not caused by psychological complications, they may be capable of joining an alternative community or living in anarchist squats where they may grow vegetables in abandoned gardens. Generally such people do not have aversion to work per se, but suffer from hierarchy aversion.


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, as one lives off his/her savings and liquidates other assets, including mortgaging his/her home
  • Loss of money in a get-rich-quick scheme the subject enters out of desperation
  • Gambling problems[16]
  • 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 or may make giving a good impression to a potential employer more difficult.
  • Neglect of dependents, such as spouse and children, who one is expected to support. Work aversion is responsible for many cases of divorce and broken families.[citation needed]
  • 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. An estimated 20% of criminals feel compelled to a life of crime due to work aversion[17]. A study has shown that more than 40% of prisoners have work aversion[18]
  • Denial of citizenship[19], since immigrants to new countries are expected to work and not be a burden to taxpayers of the new country
  • Homelessness, in most severe cases. A 1989 survey found that 45% of homelessness was believed to be caused by work aversion[20].

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:


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.

Aversion therapy has been found to be successful in many cases. When it works, patients can recover rapidly[11].

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 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.

Philosophical/religious views

In many religions, work is seen as an obligation, therefore, failure to work for a living is considered to be a sin. Lack of working is viewed as a way many are led to a life of crime or other unethical ways to make money[16].

Some have defined aversion to work as the "greatest evil in the world."[21][22]

See also


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  7. ^ Rosen P (1988). "Dumping or work aversion?". J Emerg Med 6 (5): 429–31. PMID 3225456. 
  8. ^ Rosen P, Markovchick V, Wolfe R (Jan 1989). "Academic productivity or petulant work aversion?". Ann Emerg Med 18 (1): 106–7. PMID 2910150. 
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Further reading

External links



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