Pop Quiz: Do Your Employees Choose the “Larger-Later” Option?

Why patience is the mother of all (employee) virtues

We live in a world of instant gratification.

We can use our mobile devices to instantly connect with friends.

To order food.

To binge TV.

To have toilet paper delivered.

To have sex.

And all that instant gratification comes at a cost: When we have to wait, we’re not good at it.

Instant gratification leads to a lack of patience.

A study last year found that 96% of Americans are so impatient they “knowingly consume hot food or beverages that burn their mouths.”

So we’re willing to accept physical pain instead of well, just being patient.

It’s not that we have a line cutting culture, it’s just that we really don’t like waiting.

But it turns out patience is good for us.

Ayelet Fishbach, of the University of Chicago’s Booth Business School, designed experiments on waiting: how we do it, how we deal with it, and the results of it.

“There is a ton of evidence connecting low patience with negative outcomes, which could be career, academic, health, financial, and so on.” — Ayelet Fishbach

He finds that patience serves us well:

“Intertemporal choice poses a dilemma between immediate gratification and the possibility of greater benefits in the future (Ainslie & Haslam, 1992; Thaler, 1981). In this dilemma, patience — that is, people’s ability to delay gratification and opt for the larger-later option — is one of the key predictors of cognitive and social competence.When Waiting To Choose Increases Patience (co-authored by Xianchi Dai)

Some specific findings:

  • Kids that are more patient tend to have more friends
  • Adolescents that are more patient get better SAT scores
  • Kids in general get better grades if they’re patient
  • Adults who are more patient are more likely to advance their career
  • Married adults with high levels of patience are able to maintain their marriage (and it’s not just about divorce, but relationship health, too)

“Certainly being patient is a key to being successful. There’s a lot of research on that,” said Fishbach to Stephen Dubner, of Freakonomics fame, on the Freakonomics podcast. “The research on self-control and how that’s basically more important than having a high IQ for being successful in life.”

Speaking of success: well done on making it all the way to the end of an article. The next time you’re waiting in line, think on these things.

Or if it’s a really long line, listen to the Freakonomics episode “What Are You Waiting For?

And next time you’re about to interview someone? Maybe let ’em wait a little longer.