ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2022, Vol. 30 ›› Issue (12): 2846-2856.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2022.02846

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Double-edged-sword effect of performance pressure in organizational contexts

JIA Suosuo1, GUO Li1(), CAI Zijun2, MAO Jih-Yu3   

  1. 1Business School, University of International Business and Economics, Beijing 100029, China
    2Business School, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China
    3School of Business Administration, Southwestern University of Finance and Economics, Chengdu 611130, China
  • Received:2022-01-18 Online:2022-12-15 Published:2022-09-23
  • Contact: GUO Li


The complexity of the market economy has brought about many challenges to organizational survival and development. As organizations often demand high performance from employees, experiencing workplace performance pressure has become a prevalent phenomenon. Performance pressure is a sense of urgency for employees to improve their performance levels demanded by the organization. Existing literature has differentiated performance pressure from other stressors. For example, workload stresses the requirement for employees to take on larger amounts of work, and time pressure emphasizes the time urgency of completing tasks. However, performance pressure is a unique and dynamic stressor. It is closely related to employee self-interests, as fulfilling performance demands often lead to the satisfaction of specific employee career needs (e.g., pay raise and promotion), and failing to fulfill performance demands often puts employees in unfavorable situations (e.g., pay cuts and demotion). As performance pressure is universal and paradoxical, this study adopts a “double-edged-sword” perspective on performance pressure and summarizes the positive, negative, and curvilinear influences of performance pressure and the theoretical explanatory mechanisms underlying these effects, such as cognitive appraisal theory of stress, conservation of resources theory, self-regulation theory, self-control theory, and the job demand-control model. For instance, based on the cognitive appraisal theory of stress and self-regulation theory, performance pressure would be appraised as a challenge or a threat, which then exerts positive or negative influences on employees. In contrast, according to the conservation of resources theory, performance pressure may lead to employees’ loss of resources and subsequently bring a negative impact on employees. By summarizing relevant literature on performance pressure through searching the keyword of “performance pressure” in databases, such as CNKI and Web of Science, this study suggests that existing research on the double-edged-sword effect of performance pressure is insufficient, for example, researchers mainly focused on the negative effect of performance pressure, but pays little attention to its positive effect. To facilitate a more comprehensive understanding of performance pressure, future research can examine the double-edged-sword effect of performance pressure in organizational contexts based on the different theoretical lenses and boundary conditions in which performance pressure’s positive and negative influences are strengthened and weakened, respectively. Three directions are specified. First, regarding theoretical applications, future research can enrich existing theoretical perspectives on the influences of performance pressure, such as the trickle-down effect of high-level managers on frontline employees through middle-level managers, resulting in excessive performance pressure on frontline employees, yet higher recovery level for leaders due to pressure transfer, and integrate conservation of resources with self-regulation theories to investigate the effects of performance pressure on employee resource depletion and work withdrawal and whether performance pressure stimulates employees to enhance performance, such as encouraging employees to engage in reflection on their performance or workplace learning. Second, future research can enrich the boundary conditions for the influences of performance pressure by exploring contextual influences that strengthen and weaken performance pressure’s positive and negative effects, respectively. For instance, servant leadership may ameliorate the negative influences of performance pressure. Supervisor bottom-line mentality may strengthen such negative influences. Of course, organizational climate factors also can be used as boundary conditions. For example, instrumental climate may aggravate the relationship between performance pressure and negative outcomes, while error tolerance culture mitigates such a relationship. Last, regarding empirical analyses, future research should consider controlling for a few influences, such as negative affect, personality traits, health, and well-being, in order to establish the uniqueness of the focal influence mechanisms of performance pressure. The above research paradigm not only facilitates the theoretical development of performance pressure but also provides management practice with theoretical guidance by helping organizations build on their strengths and avoid weaknesses when dealing with performance pressure.

Key words: performance pressure, double-edged-sword effect, boundary condition

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