Why instant gratification culture poses a dilemma for employers

Why instant gratification culture poses a dilemma for employersWe live in a world where everything is immediate, ‘on demand’ and driven by convenience, so it’s no surprise that the desire for instant gratification is becoming the new ‘norm’.

Naturally, this need for instant gratification spills over into the workplace. However, this doesn’t necessarily have to spell disaster if employers learn how to adapt and create proactive strategies to ensure the instant gratification culture doesn’t trump sound business planning. Let’s explore how to do this in your business…

Firstly, what is instant gratification?

“Instant (or immediate) gratification is a term that refers to the temptation, and resulting tendency, to forego a future benefit in order to obtain a less rewarding but more immediate benefit”. (positive psychology)

Reading this definition we might suspect a few of you start shouting at your screens saying ‘hey I never agreed to forego any future benefit, that’s not what instant gratification is about’. For those of you wanting to shout at us 😊 we have a different definition:

“Instant gratification is the immediate fulfilment of a person’s needs or desires. When someone makes an impulsive choice to do something for the instant feeling of pleasure or satisfaction, they are receiving instant gratification”. (Study.com)

So, which is the reality?

Google results suggest that plenty of people side with the first definition, the downside of instant gratification – referring to losing out on the big achievement, shallow lives etc. Whilst others are more aligned with the second definition and take a more positive approach, talking about using the current trend for instant gratification to boost sales, reward customers, engage employees, and motivate the younger generations. So, who is right?

The reality is that if we accept instant gratification as the new normal and adapt our recruitment and employment practices around that, we are in effect being reactive to the current environment and accepting of the need to change how we do things. Our employees are telling us that is what they want so, in this day and age where the tail so often wags the dog, we do as they request! An academic though might take a much more positive view of what is happening, calling it ‘Servant Leadership’

Another employer though, wishing to be proactive rather than reactive, might take time to analyse, understand and create a sustainable plan for recruitment and engagement etc. That plan may include elements of instant gratification, whilst keeping an eye on what is needed for the long term and business sustainability. Instant gratification here does not trump sound business planning.

A variety of issues and impact

To save you googling, here is a sample of the topics we found on this subject, an interesting mix albeit with a focus on why instant gratification is generally not a good thing… have a scan through…

  • The ability to discipline yourself to delay gratification in the short term to enjoy greater rewards in the long term is the indispensable prerequisite for success (Brian Tracy).
  • People caught up in the instant gratification trap expect to gain something from nothing. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t work that way. You need to give something to get something back.
  • An instant gratification cleanse – hard for an employer to do, but could be considered within employee engagement considerations.
  • How instant gratification solutions kill true innovation.
  • Why the instant gratification monkey turns you into a master procrastinator.
  • Instant gratification micro moments boost customer loyalty.
  • People who grow up without a sense of how yesterday has affected today are unlikely to have a strong sense of how today affects tomorrow (Lynne Cheney).

But let’s not automatically reject the concept of instant gratification

To challenge thinking, if you, like many others, are on the side of ‘instant gratification can cause more harm than good’: are some of us reflecting on what we were told as kids? Be patient and you will get the rewards, work hard and you will be successful, don’t poke, rattle or prod your presents and Christmas Day will be that much more enjoyable etc.

Instead, do we need to re-evaluate our thinking and adjust to the ‘new normal’? What harm can ‘living for the day’, or ‘you only live once’ really do? Is there something in this that we can learn? In our adaptability training courses we talk about the concept of ‘unlearning’, unlearning one thing in order to be able to learn a new way of doing something or behaving. We are never too old to learn and adapt, just sometimes a bit lazy or belligerent to do so 😊. To get you thinking take a minute to think about what you might have to unlearn when all cars are driverless, or all bikes are electric, or all texting, writing, messaging etc is through verbal commands.

It’s really tough to know when change is genuinely needed and helpful, or when change is just us following another crazy short term trend inflamed by the media and TikTok stars.

Changing recruitment and employment practises

The media tells us we live in a world of instant gratification, so should we change the way we behave to reflect that? Should we focus our engagement strategies on lots of short-term rewards, likes, gifts etc. Should we focus our recruitment procedures around earning stars or brownie points on Glassdoor or Fishbowl? Should we develop our training to reward those who turn up, who stay the length of a course, who like to collect points and certificates, and who excel at all the online quizzes we develop for them etc?

Is an acceptance of ‘low skill’ driving behaviours?

In the past year at Jaluch, we have had people push back on attending a 6-hour training course saying ‘we can’t concentrate for that long’. And people pushing back on a 2-hour course saying ‘can’t you develop our leadership skills in just 60 minutes’? Sometimes we wonder if people have such low expectations of themselves that they don’t see a need to put time and effort into developing their skill set. Has the professional bar got that low that low skill/shallow understanding is deemed ‘acceptable’, and low concentration deemed ‘the norm’ just because that is the easy path in life?

This acceptance of low skill is a challenge at a time when employees expect ever more of their managers and employers and when life is changing so fast that if we don’t all keep our skill levels and knowledge up we will fall behind.

Another take on this situation is that arrogance (or delusion) in our skill set is at an all time high… I don’t need development, I can do all this naturally without having to learn it, my generation doesn’t need to learn like previous generations had to, just give me a 3 min YouTube clip and I’ll grasp the basics.

Some examples

In recruitment we have had candidates wait no more than a few days (or even hours) before giving up waiting for your recruitment decision. ‘Can’t make your mind up, I’m off’.

In employment we have people giving a job a go for a few days and then saying ‘no its not for me’. No waiting to see how it all works across a few months as they settle in.

We have come across new graduates on a professional skills course saying they don’t want to wait 3 years to be fully qualified. And undergraduates on a vocational degree course saying they don’t want to have to deal with normal or boring stuff (patients) but just want to get involved with the interesting stuff 🤦

Here is more of this short term approach:

  • ‘I thought every day would be fun, there’s too much boring stuff’
  • ‘Let’s overpay for the role to attract in good candidates now even though we know paying people above market rates will create a long term problem’
  • ‘We want the organisation to change its culture, and we want that to happen NOW’.
  • ‘I want my business to be in a building that looks impressive for my Instagram’
  • I can’t be bothered to find out who to complain to, so I’ll just tweet my complaint and it will soon get through to the right person and its not my problem if the whole world now knows an error was made nor my problem if there any negative consequences of that.

When it’s the HR team leading Instant Gratification behaviours

A classic sales example we came across a few years ago was when a business wanted us to train all their 300+ staff in unconscious bias, putting groups of 50 through a 60-minute session. The quote was accepted, the agenda accepted but then a final hurdle… can you guarantee that your training will change behaviours.

Our answer was no, you cannot change behaviours other than through repeated discussions and learning, multiple cultural initiatives and managing out those who undermine what you are trying to achieve.

We lost that sale, only to receive an email a few weeks later telling us that a supplier had been able to give the necessary guarantee! Oh dear.

Perhaps this was the precursor to the instant gratification culture headed up by an HR team?

Is instant gratification as much about giving in too easily as much as it is expecting rewards too quickly?

I’m bored and can’t be bothered, I don’t like my manager so I won’t put effort into working it out, I will just complain instead so someone else can sort my manager out etc. What link between instant gratification and resilience?

‘If you continue to experience fleeting moments of pleasure unfortunately, in the end, you will not be satisfied. You will not be happy, and you will probably not be fulfilled. At the end of your life you will have nothing more than a fading memory full of regrets and unfilled expectations’.

Finally, what proactive strategies can employers put in place?

  • Educate your team members and managers about instant gratification. Have open discussions about what it means for people, their careers, the organisation. Get people talking! Open eyes to long term consequences of decisions and actions taken today.
  • Have a balance within your engagement programme of easy instant gratification tools (points, prizes) but also long term tools that can be used to reflect big successes, long term engagement eg earn an additional day’s holiday on reaching 5 years service.
  • Support those who express an interest in weaning themselves off instant gratification tools such as likes on social media. Support networks might work here.
  • When responding to individual or group promotion, pay or benefit demands, be clear on trade offs – if we give this today, this means that…
  • Differentiate between those who have learned short concentration and those who have short concentration due to for example a neuro condition such as ADHD. Different solutions for different people. Demand more from your flibbertigibbets but show consideration and patience with those with neuro conditions.
  • Ensure those making decisions on engagement and reward within the organisation are clear on the balance that needs to be struck here and the dangers involved when the tail wags the dog!

We are sure you will all have plenty to say about this topic, so please do share. All comments welcomed.

Jaluch is an HR, Recruitment and Training provider in the UK. Passionate about people, customer service, developing our own team and business transformation. Innovation can be so stimulating. We are pragmatic, commercial and above all we love Plain English. Contact us for HR or training support.

Interested in a leadership programme that tackles real world issues? Interested in someone challenging your managers and staff to raise the bar? Here is what a few delegates said after attending one of our recent courses…

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