There are several dimensions to consider.
Pre-note: To fear consequence of losing or not gaining that which is valued by the self is a natural instinct. Even the sympathy-driven fear of certain others suffering consequences is natural enough.
Firstly there is nature of the consequence itself. Is it threat of losing or not gaining that which one would consider a right or a privilege (a right to live versus the right to watch TV)?
Secondly - the nature of the challenge set - whether such is cooperative or competitive (is the individual rewarded for personal proficiency or are multiple individuals assessed as a group or are multiple individuals assessed against each other?)
Thirdly - Consent. Are the participants willing or forced?
The nature of the consequence and the nature of the challenge set determines whether the fear of failure instilled is ethical or not.
The following is an attempt to apply the above. I am not completely happy and welcome suggestions for improvement.
A) Win or Die
- Challenge = Russian Roulette - Cooperative or Competitive
- Consequence = 1/6 chance of death, 5/6 chance of a motivation (assuming one round)
- Consent = Technically yes (with plenty of room for discussion and controversy attached)
Since the fear of failure is the fear of losing one's life - and arguable one could posit that one has the right to live, the ethics of setting up the challenge is questionable at best.
B) Job Bonus
- Challenge = Work Performance - Cooperative or Competitive
- Consequence = Not gaining a bonus to paycheck
- Consent = Yes (generally)
A work performance bonus is nice - its not a right but its certainly welcome. Making it competitive such that the second best is left with nothing regardless of how stellar his or her performance is rather mean however.