The survey, by New Bridge Street Consultants, showed 55 per cent of all new executive share option schemes were demanding an annual rise in earnings per share of more than 3 per cent above inflation.
In a quarter of new schemes, the target was higher than that figure. Until recently, the overwhelming majority of executive schemes had a target of 2 per cent above inflation.
New Bridge Street, a management consultancy, advises more than 30 per cent of FTSE 100 companies on executive remuneration. The authors of its survey said pressure from institutional shareholders lay behind the tougher targets.
The survey said long-term incentive plans adopted last year had higher potential awards than in previous years. But the trend towards such schemes, prompted by the Greenbury Committee's report into executive pay, was slowing.
In 1998, 60 per cent of companies granted long-term plans, against 57 per cent in 1997 and 50 per cent in 1996.
FTSE 100 companies were much more likely to have long term plans than Mid-250 stocks, which overwhelmingly used share options.
Most share option schemes still used earnings per share as the criterion of success. Only 20 per cent of FTSE 100 companies and 13 per cent of Mid-250 companies used total shareholder return, benchmarked against the performance of an index.
In contrast, long-term incentive plans typically allocated free shares paid for by the company, handed out to executives meeting targets measured by total shareholder return.
Mark Anderson, director of New Bridge Street, said: "The survey shows clearly that the `pay for performance' strategy which lay at the heart of the Greenbury Committee's report has had a major impact in this area."