What is it about?

There is some evidence that performance-related pay (PRP) leads to higher levels of stress as it incentivizes employees to work harder for longer. However, PRP in the workplace also typically involves performance monitoring, which may introduce an additional source of stress via social-evaluative threat (SET). The current study examined the effect of PRP on stress while varying the level of performance monitoring/SET. High SET led to higher levels of self-reported stress but not cortisol, whereas there was no effect of the payment condition on either self-reported stress or cortisol. A statistically significant interaction revealed that high SET-fixed payment participants were significantly more stressed than those in the high SET-PRP group. Estimating the regressions separately for high- and low-performing individuals found that the effect was driven by low-performing individuals. These results suggest that fixed payment contracts that have a minimum performance threshold and which include performance monitoring and SET can be more stressful than traditional piece-rate PRP contracts. The current study suggests that incorporating performance monitoring and SET into payment contracts may affect the well-being of employees.

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Why is it important?

Recent research has focused on the stress effects of performance-related pay (PRP). On the other hand, there is a long literature in psychology on the impact of socioevaluative threat (SET) on stress in the workplace. This is the first study to put together these two factors, using laboratory experiments and objectively measuring stress through cortisol.


Interestingly, while we find strong SET effects, the interaction with PRP seemed imporant only in the subjective stress rather than the objective stress measures. The minimum performance condition also seemed to play a large role in stress - which is different than in previous experiments.

Professor Keith A Bender
University of Aberdeen

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Stress in performance-related pay: the effect of payment contracts and social-evaluative threat, Stress, January 2023, Taylor & Francis,
DOI: 10.1080/10253890.2023.2283435.
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