Overcoming the Negative Effects of Performance Pressure

stress at work

Employees often face pressure to perform well at work. This performance pressure has both benefits (e.g., becoming more proficient at tasks) and drawbacks (e.g., increased cheating). Therefore, it is important to understand ways to overcome the drawbacks of performance pressure without eliminating its benefits. New research (Spoelma, 2022) examines how using a brief personal values affirmation intervention may counteract the negative impact of performance pressure. 


The researcher conducted two studies—a lab experiment and a field study. In the lab experiment, participants were randomly assigned to either a performance pressure condition or a control condition prior to completing a task. Researchers measured the subsequent amount of cheating. In both studies, some participants were randomly assigned to complete a brief personal values affirmation intervention. This intervention took approximately six minutes and consisted of participants writing about their most important values and a time in their life when those values had been particularly important.

Results of the studies show that under conditions of performance pressure, participants who completed the personal values intervention showed less anger, and in turn, less cheating compared to participants who did not complete the personal values intervention.


The author suggests that organizational leaders allow time for employees to complete a personal values affirmation exercise at work, especially when employees are facing significant performance pressure. Alternatively, this exercise could be completed by employees at home or while on a work break. Additionally, the author suggests that leaders and organizations can facilitate the self-affirmation process in different ways. This may include asking employees about the values that are important to them, or permitting employees to take time off of work to do activities that are self-affirming, like volunteering.


Spoelma, T. M. (2022). Counteracting the effects of performance pressure on cheating: A self-affirmation approach. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication.