How Does Instant Gratification Affect Workplace Culture? | VP Legacies

How Does Instant Gratification Affect Workplace Culture?

How Does Instant Gratification Affect Workplace Culture?

How Does Instant Gratification Affect Workplace Culture? 1222 752 VP Legacies

Have you noticed friction in your workplace or workers that seem unable to focus on long projects?

Instant gratification appeals to some of the oldest parts of the human brain, so it’s no surprise we have to work hard to overcome the need for it. Yet overcoming that need has only become more difficult as society becomes better at indulging it. Workplaces can suffer as a result when this selfish instinct runs out of control.

At VP Legacies, we’re committed to helping you form real Personal Connection®, and we know that instant gratification can often get in the way. So what is instant gratification, and how can it affect workplace culture? Let’s take a closer look.

What Is Instant Gratification?

Instant gratification is, metaphorically, the grasping hands of a baby. We may grow out of the physical act, but the psychology of it remains with us.

When we have a desire, we want that desire filled as soon as possible. In nature, that’s a survival instinct. Yet it clashes with our more rational, organized selves and the society we’ve built around the idea of acting civilized.

Why Instant Gratification Is Becoming More Common

Like most animalistic habits, we can control the desire for instant gratification with willpower. Willpower is best cemented with habits, but modern culture has eroded our ability to delay gratification. It has introduced damaging gratification habits in its place.

Digital Culture

Young people sitting around a table with computers to show digital culture

Digital culture is notorious for having transformed our attention spans, which has the inevitable result of indulging the need for instant gratification.

We expect everything to load quickly, to deliver immediate feel-good sensations, and to connect us to the things we want. This goes for everything from replies to our messages to receiving same-day deliveries.

That conditions us to expect “yes” for an answer whenever we want something.

Related: Personal Connection in the Age of Social Media

Automation and Convenience

The increasing ability of society to respond instantly to our needs is the perfect partner in crime for restless, needy brains.

We can fulfill needs at the touch of a button, sometimes without moving anything more than a thumb on a touchscreen. When our own laziness is often all that stands between us and the third take-out meal this week, you can see the problem.

In a workplace, completing tasks with the press of a button can erode genuine problem-solving skills. When a problem comes up, employees can assume something is broken and that it’s someone else’s job to fix it. This promotes a “somebody else’s problem” attitude, and a sense of ownership disappears.

Related: A Retrospective of “Back to the Future” and Value-Based Technology


A woman goes online shopping, an example of globalization in action

Globalization has also indulged our instant gratification by shrinking the world. It’s trivial to get what we want from anywhere around the globe. That goes for news and social interaction, new gadgets, or exotic food.

As with other factors, globalization has removed “no” from the answers we expect to hear when we ask for something.

Negative Implications of Instant Gratification

In a psychological sense, the need for instant gratification is at the root of bigger problems. 

Addictive Tendencies

If you’ve ever found yourself feeling itchy at the thought of leaving your smartphone in a different room or you’ve spent hours on a mindless gaming app, then you know the addiction brought on by instant gratification.

Taken to the extreme, the need for what many now call the “dopamine hit” can cause someone to abandon their responsibilities. Addictive personalities can disappear into the world of instant gratification.

Missed Opportunities for Learning Growth

Growth comes from challenge. When our opinions, skills, or visions for the future meet a challenge, we grow to meet them by evaluating, learning, and developing.

Instant gratification tells us there’s no need for any of that. When “yes” is the only answer, there’s no barrier to continuing on as we are—after all, it gets us what we want. Challenging this attitude is the only way to refocus on personal growth and development.

Undeveloped Relationships

Instant gratification is a selfish impulse. It inherently sets people against each other, because your gratification often comes at the expense of someone else. Interpersonal relationships demand sacrifice, even if it’s something as simple as putting your smartphone down to talk to your partner.

Why Maximizing Delayed Gratification Makes All the Difference

As we mentioned, delayed gratification is a matter of willpower, for which forming good habits is the most successful path. Delayed gratification leads to the development of better habits in turn.

Encourages Teamwork

Silhouette of hikers in the sunset to demonstrate teamwork

When goals are out of reach, we’re more willing to work with others to achieve them, and when instant gratification is off the table, it’s less likely to cause interpersonal friction.

In turn, this means employees will work together to achieve goals and take pride in their team. Achieving goals becomes a patient, collective task based on planning, communication, and interpersonal skills.

Related: What to Include In an Internal Communication Plan

Encourages You to Learn

Instant gratification can stunt growth. It’s one reason why the spoiled celebrity stereotype exist. When everything’s on-demand, there’s no reason to learn social skills or to better yourself to achieve your ambitions and unlock new opportunities.

While instant gratification incentivizes doing what you’ve always done, delaying gratification teaches you to do things in new ways.

Encourages You to Enjoy Your Relationships

The feel-good vibes that come with instant gratification are often an illusion. We don’t really enjoy clicking the same button 50 times, but our monkey brains think we do.

Once we break out of the instant gratification mindset, we discover the things we truly enjoy. Often, those are interpersonal relationships. These reward us in subtler ways over longer periods of time.

In psychological terms, instant gratification is to genuine enjoyment what fast food is to a nutritious meal.

Fosters Engagement on Multiple Levels

Delayed gratification can lead to a larger sense of mindfulness. With mindfulness, employees spend more time in the moment and less chasing future rewards.

This can foster engagement at all levels, making people more aware of their surroundings, their current work, and their interpersonal relationships. This can incentivize people to work on improving these without disappearing into the escapism of instant gratification.

The Instant Gratification Trap

A team eating lunch together instead of using electronic devices to show delayed gratification

By now, it should be clear that instant gratification can pose some major problems in the workplace. It can stunt the growth of employees, lead to interpersonal friction, and distract from company goals. On the other hand, putting in more intellectual and emotional work can have a bigger payoff if you just wait a little longer.

This is especially true for the way we interact with people. Take a look at our Personal Connection® 101 course to find out some of the ways communication has changed for better and for worse in the age of instant gratification. You’ll learn how to build and maximize your authentic relationships even though we’re surrounded by the digital.