Stress and Fear: Do They Boost or Kill Motivation?

Stress and Fear: Do They Boost or Kill Motivation?

Is it ever a good idea to use stress and fear to motivate staff?

By Marcia Smith


Some people thrive in stressful situations and achieve their best work when under pressure. However, relying on stress as a motivator can have serious risks.

Importantly, different people respond to stress in different ways. For some people, stress is a de-motivator and they may seize up in high pressure situations. Stress can often increase the speed of work but may inadvertently lower the quality, inhibiting people’s capacity for creative thinking.

Where stress is a common or constant part of the work environment, this can lead to employee burnout and affect their mental and physical health. This can lead to a loss of productivity due to increased sick leave and staff turnover.


Fear can be a real motivator in the short term, but it risks doing great harm to employees and your business.

A consistent, intentional use of fear could fuel resentment amongst staff, actually lowering motivation, productivity and quality. It could also stifle innovation and creativity within your workforce.

Fear can cause stress and anxiety, increasing employee sickness and absence. Fear can encourage employees to quit, increasing staff turnover and causing additional recruitment costs. Furthermore, these effects could be worse for employees who take their jobs more seriously.