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Norms about excellence in organizations

WorkgroupSocial Processes
FundingIWM budget resources
Project description

Universities and organizations alike often communicate social norms to their members. These norms imply expected types of behavior. In the last years, ‘excellence’ has become increasingly important: Numerous universities and organizations emphasize, for instance, on their websites or internal communication platforms, the importance of excellent performance and the premium quality of their products. How do members respond to such norms about excellence?

Focusing on excellence has its advantages, such as potentially gaining status, providing more opportunities, or becoming more attractive (e.g., to prospective students or job applicants). At the same time, such an emphasis of excellence may induce performance pressure and stress among some members (e.g., students or employees). Indeed, a survey among 18.000 students in Germany 2016 suggested that a great majority of students reports medium to high levels of stress – and they expressed performance pressure and high expectations as potential source (Herbst et al., 2016). This project empirically addressed the questions: Do members at universities or organizations perceive norms about excellence (i.e., that they are being expected to show outstanding levels of performance)? Can such norms evoke stress? And how can members protect themselves against stress from such norms?

In this regard, one focus of this project was on the role of members’ social identification (i.e., ‘sense of belonging’). Our results showed, for instance, that students experience more stress from excellence norms only when weakly (rather than strongly) identifying with their university. We followed up on these first results with experiments and field studies. The main questions were: What are the (positive and negative) implications of excellence norms for members of an organization? How do organizations communicate such norms, for instance, on their websites? And when does the expression of such norms attract new members (e.g., job applicants)?


Scholl, A., Sassenberg, K., & Pfattheicher, S. (2019). Pressured to be excellent? Social identification prevents negative affect from high university excellence norms. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 84, 103796. [Data] request document