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The Pros and Cons of Performance Pressure

Performance pressure refers to when employees feel that they critically need to perform at a high level. This is a quite common occurrence at many organizations. There have been many research studies on performance pressure. Research has revealed that performance pressure can motivate some employees to perform at a high level to gain promotions and/or salary increases. However, research has also shown that for some employees, performance pressures can also lead to stress that could adversely impact productivity. Overall, research has failed to reveal how some employees are better able to handle pressure than others. Such information could help to provide resources to employees that could better promote productivity and a positive work environment.

Recent research in the Academy of Management Journalexplored this topic. The researchers gathered data from 108 employees across several industries including education, healthcare, and manufacturing. Participants were asked to complete an initial survey that assessed their ability to handle stress. They then received two daily surveys for 10 days. One survey was to be completed at noon and a second after leaving work for the day. The first survey assessed performance pressure while the second addressed various other variables discussed below.

The study revealed several interesting findings. The researchers found that on a daily basis, participants who saw performance pressure as a threat had a lower ability to self-regulate. Self-regulation refers to the ability to manage one’s behavior. For these individuals, the greater the performance pressure, the less they were able to regulate their behavior. In turn, this increased incivility. In other words, they were more likely to behave in a dysfunctional manner (e.g., being rude, showing disregard toward others, etc.)

The research also found that on a daily basis, individuals who viewed performance pressure as a challenge were more engaged in their work. These individuals had higher task proficiency and demonstrated more citizenship behavior such as being courteous and/or helpful to colleague.

Finally, the researchers found that the previously discussed relationships were stronger when considering trait resilience (i.e., the ability to handle stress). Specifically, for individuals with lower trait resilience, the relationship between performance pressure, threat appraisal, self-regulation depletion, and incivility was stronger compared to those with higher trait resilience. For those with higher trait resilience, the relationship between performance pressure, challenge appraisal, engagement, task proficiency, and citizenship were stronger when compared to those with lower trait resilience.