May 16, 2011

Ants, Grasshoppers, GrAnts, AntHoppers and GrantHoppers: Five Approaches to Work and Fun

“‘Come and sing with me instead of working so hard’, said the Grasshopper. ‘Let’s have fun together.’”—from one version of Aesop’s “Ant and the Grasshopper” fable


GRANTHOPPERS/Image: Michael Moffa

Every child is familiar with Aesop’s fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper—which tells a tale of the plan-for-the-winter “Ants” and live-for-today “Grasshoppers”. When a child grows up, the colorful imagery, contrasts and story of Ants and Grasshoppers are replaced by the drier concepts of “deferred gratification” and “immediate gratification”.  If you are a recruiter, pure Ants and Grasshoppers become icons of recruiting success and failure—but not always in that order.

If you are a more sensible person with a rich, balanced and complex life, in some ways you behave like an Ant, in others, like a Grasshopper. Sure, extreme purely  triple-S savings, status and shopping-motivated workaholics are likely to be pure Ants with no time for Facebook friends or real face-to-face ones, while skid-row alcoholics are likely to be pure “live-in-the-moment” Grasshoppers who avoid or escape hard work by panhandling (which often turns out to be harder work)—something few recruiters would ever be (psychologically or financially) able to  do. This observation suggests that the original typology of Ant vs. Grasshopper is too black-and-white (or red-and-green, to be true to the fable).

There are at least two additional characters that could and should have been developed in that story of the work-for-tomorrow, farsighted Ant vs. the live-for-today, short-sighted Grasshopper. These two types are the “GrAnt” and the “AntHopper”—the former being mostly Grasshopper, with a dash of Ant; the latter being mostly Ant, with Grasshopper for spice.  Examples: A seasonal cruise ship lounge singer, who is clearly not an Ant, although possibly a “Closet Ant”  or “Closet Grasshopper” (someone who would rather be pure Ant or pure Grasshopper but, because of circumstances, can’t) is more likely to be a GrAnt than an AntHopper or pure Grasshopper, whereas a hard-working full-time time-share salesman who loves the beaches of Puerta Vallarta, but is clearly not a pure Grasshopper, is more likely to be an AntHopper  or “Closet Grasshopper” than a pure Ant or GrAnt.

Then, of course, there are those who are a perfectly balanced blend of Ant and Grasshopper, namely, the “GrantHoppers”, e.g., people who work very hard to get grants so they can stop working hard and get paid to have fun without working.

Ants and AntHoppers

Despite the cute names, the GrAnt and AntHopper labels encapsulate some deep psychology and insights into personality and lifestyle differences. If you are a pure Ant or AntHopper recruiter or job applicant, you are very likely to feel that having fun is not only a just reward, but also just a reward for work, to be enjoyed only after your work is done (with pure Ants struggling to grasp the concept “after work”).  However, AntHoppers are far more likely than pure Ants to allow for fun that is completely unrelated to work.

This means that there are two kinds of fun for AntHoppers (and Ants that have any time or energy for any fun at all): “fun-as-reward” vs. “fun-as-alternative”. In the terminology of behavioral psychology, the first kind is fun as reward for your operant work-related performances—like cheese earned and deserved for running a maze, whereas the second kind is fun in the form of an alternative, completely independent experience, although one also allowed only after work is completed—like yesterday’s left-over snacks still in the cage, after the still-hungry mouse is returned there from the maze and its job-related cheese.

From this “fun-as-alternative” AntHopper perspective, eating a cheese pizza is a work-independent activity engaged in after running the office maze.  For example, although some recruiters may order a pizza as a reward for a job well done, when it is a purely work-independent activity, the rewards are not contingent upon work completion, even if they are subsequent to it.  Likewise, the shower that you enjoy after playing tennis is not a reward for playing the game. Scoring points, increased fitness, etc., are the rewards. The shower is an independent pleasure, with independent rewards. The post-job placement pizza can be either—reward, or alternative.

Reward, or Alternative?

Notice the subtle difference: In the first case,  in which something is an explicit reward for work, your fun is conceptualized and experienced as strictly a quid pro quo payoff for completing your job—the fun is reward, a.k.a., “reinforcement”. You place a candidate and get a commission or you “celebrate” with the boys, the girls and a beer—the difference between the reinforcement commission and the reinforcement beer being that you are rewarded with someone else’s commission cash in the case of the commission and self-rewarded with your own, if you buy that beer (however, perhaps also paid for by someone else, which then obliterates the difference).

But, in the second “fun-as-alternative” case, after work you switch to something else; but rather than being rewarded for work (which may have to wait until pay day at the end of the month), you place a candidate and switch to doing something else that is an alternative to the placement or your work shift, not a reward for it. For example, you go home and watch TV with your kids. It is important to note that it would be a mistake to assume that going home to watch TV is a reward for success at work. It could be, but then it might not be—it could simply be something you are permitted to switch to doing when work tasks are completed, irrespective of whether those job tasks have or have not been rewarded.

What makes the difference relevant to your daily recruiter’s work-life balance is this:  If you are primarily, although not exclusively, a work-oriented “fun-as-job reward” or “fun-as-end-of-job” AntHopper, rather than “fun-as-alternative” AntHopper,  fun in the form of relaxation or excitement will be experienced as a job “reward”,  so you may have difficulty emotionally and cognitively dissociating that fun activity from work.

Family Dinner Gaps

For example, you return home for a family dinner at the end of the work day. You smile, you are relaxed and excited at the same time, as your wife plumps the piping hot apple pie on the table and the kids giggle in gleeful anticipation. She thinks you are happy to be home. In fact, you feel happy to not be at work or happy to get your reward for having finished your work.

Despite the virtually indistinguishable and warm smiles all around the table in the two scenarios, your wife thinks you are happy because of what she thinks the situation is, namely, affirmed family-values, while you feel happy because of what the situation isn’t—it’s not work.  Or it’s the end-of-work’s reward, rather than family reward. Hence, your enjoyment is an end-of-mission “negation” , while her enjoyment is a (falsely imagined to be shared) “affirmation”—of the independently positive pleasures of family life. For the lucky and many of the “normal”, it can be both.

What can happen here is that, if you are not so lucky as those who can smoothly integrate and segue from work-related to work-independent activities, you will experience being home as a reward for work, while your wife is experiencing it as a very satisfying and independent “fun-as-alternative” to your work and affirmation of family life, atmospherics and relationships.  Unbeknownst to her, you have become a strictly “fun-as-reward” Ant or AntHopper who is enjoying pleasures that are very different from those experienced by your family. (If she could nudge you into morphing into a GrantHopper, that would, from her perspective, be a good start.)

In virtue of having become a “fun-as-reward” Ant, unwittingly and paradoxically, you have created Ant or AntHopper distance between you and your family by bringing your anthill home.

Grasshoppers and GrAnts

Because a pure Grasshopper recruiter is either retired or rare, the following observations will be primarily applicable to GrAnts—those who are mostly Grasshoppers, but with a dash of Ant. Those recruited to work seasonally on cruise ships prima facie fall into the GrAnt category. Recruiters who frequently travel on those cruise ships dive into the same category.

There are many people, who irrespective of how they allocate their time and energy are, in terms of their attitudes, Grasshopper/GrAnts, because they really would prefer to live for as well as in the moment (which are not the same thing) or because they wish to engage in work “negation”, i.e., pursue “not work” (or “anything but work”), but cannot, because of the constraints of circumstances, including finances. Call these “Closet Grasshoppers/GrAnts”.

No, not everyone is a closet Grasshopper/GrAnt. We all know people who do not want to be Grasshoppers or GrAnts—do not want to just have fun or at least a lot of fun without working, either because they don’t know how; because they believe they have a duty to work, or at least a duty not to have fun; or because they have collapsed the distinction between work and fun. For short, I call them “Mules”, “Calvinists” and “The Rolling Stones”, respectively.

Implications and Applications of the Expanded Fable

What is important to note from a recruiting standpoint is that knowing how much time and energy an applicant, job candidate, employee or a recruiter allocates to work by choice or necessity is not sufficient for identifying him or her as any of the five types—Ant, Grasshopper, GrAnt, AntHopper, GrantHopper.  Clues, yes. Confirmation, no.  Just as one employee with Ant work hours might prefer to be a Grasshopper/GrAnt, another with a light Grasshopper work schedule may dream of filling it like an Ant.

Another useful application of the Grasshopper/GrAnt/Ant/AntHopper/GrantHopper distinctions is in categorizing jobs you are offering. If you are able to describe a job as probably appealing more to a GrAnt than to an AntHopper, you will accomplish two things: First, you will give the applicant a better feel for the job at a specific company, since work conditions and demands of any given job category can vary from one company to another. Second, you may be better able to gauge the leanings or priorities of the applicant from the response to the job description, e.g., when a GrAnt displays little enthusiasm for an AntHopper job.

This expanded reclassification of the Ant-Grasshopper fable is a valuable conceptualization that fills in the gaps between the all-or-none, diametrically opposed Ant and Grasshopper categories.  With the additional distinctions that include GrAnt, AntHopper, GrantHopper, Closet Ant and Closet Grasshopper, the revised typology can benefit the client, the applicant and yourself, as a means of making more accurate assessments of jobs as well as of current and prospective personnel….

…even during dinner with the family, if you can’t help being an Ant.

Read more in Work Life Balance

Michael Moffa, writer for, is a former editor and writer with China Daily News, Hong Kong edition and Editor-in-chief, Business Insight Japan Magazine, Tokyo; he has also been a columnist with one of Japan’s national newspapers, The Daily Yomiuri, and a university lecturer (critical thinking and philosophy).