can instant gratification deliver long-term results?
Instant gratification — we live in a world where we expect results now. We want faster internet speeds, on-demand movies and games, and same-day delivery of packages. Speed and convenience dictate our buying decisions. Slow service earns instantly bad yelp reviews. And ‘first-to-market’ often feels like a win.
But is faster always better? Are we becoming too focused on instant gratification — where short-term results are more valuable than long-term successes? Is the working world, the common workplace culture that is hyper-focused on efficiency, timeliness, and quantity, more important than long term impact? Have we become a workforce driven by impulsiveness?
The answer to the last question is both yes and no.
Scientists have long studied impulsiveness in humans. And there are both positives and negatives of the need for instant gratification. But, the reasons for both the pros and cons may surprise you.
A brilliant study of children, for example, was conducted where Stanford researchers, in the 1960’s and 70’s offered children a marshmallow (the study became known as The Marshmallow Experiment). The researchers told the children that they were going to leave the room for 15 minutes. If the children didn’t eat the first marshmallow while they were gone, then that child would be awarded with another marshmallow when they returned.
Many studies have, in various ways, studied the impulsive nature of children and then followed the subjects of these studies to try to understand how those natures impacted people later in life. Basically, the studies show that the children who were able to resist temptation for a short-term reward performed better later in life. In fact, our own research of more than one million cases of award-winning work supports these findings — 90% of projects awarded as great work include employees who have stuck with the project from implementation to completion. This is an obvious testament to patience — viewing losses as learning experiences and having tenacity to stick to goals.
However, here’s where instant gratification gets interesting…
Do you remember how good it felt the last time you were recognized for your work? Research for our latest book proves that appreciation is not only the number one thing employees say their boss could do to inspire great work from them, but it also shows that it must be given in timely fashion. In the research, “Recognize me” was given as an answer three times more than “Pay me more, give me a promotion, and give me autonomy.” However, it also said this recognition must be timely. Receiving praise for your hard work long after the result of your work can be considered offensive by many employees. Yes, this means that when we do something great at work, we expect a timely response.
Are we living in a culture of instant gratification? Yes. Are there pros and cons? Yes.
Nevertheless, if you’re a leader it’s important to understand that you need to be aware of today’s “make-it-happen-now” expectation. Of course you want to lead people to quality outcomes and through the patience it often requires to get there. However, it’s also important understand that you hold the power, the words, and the giddy-up to cheer for them along the way — by giving them instant gratification. In fact, and if nothing else, take these recent research findings to heart. When effort is encouraged, cheered for, and supported, employees reported:
• An increased confidence in their skills. They feel like they are good at their jobs and therefore expect more of their work, which increases their effort to do great work.
• They know they are on track and in good standing with their manager. They do not question whether their leader is judging their work, and therefore don’t spend their time worrying, but instead, spend it working.
• An improved relationship with their leader. It is hard to like someone you may think doesn’t like you or your work. Encouraging effort helps create a relationship between people that is based on positive communication, rather than waiting to communicate until a correction may be necessary.
Yes, we live in a culture focused on instant gratification. But that’s not a bad thing if you, as leader, know how to inspire greatness in people — by recognizing their efforts that are focused on creating long-term results. Appreciate people and their work. You’ll be amazed at what happens today, and long into the future.
This post was originally published on Forbes.