We analyze whether incentives from relative performance pay are reduced or enhanced if a department is possibly terminated due to a crisis. Our benchmark model shows that incentives decrease in a severe crisis, but are boosted given a minor crisis since efforts are strategic complements in the former case but strategic substitutes in the latter one. We tested our predictions in a laboratory experiment. The results confirm the effort ranking but show that in a severe crisis individuals deviate from equilibrium significantly stronger than in other situations. This behavior contradicts the benchmark model and leads to a five times higher survival probability of the department. We develop a new theoretical approach that may explain players' behavior.