Men and women seeking WORK-LIFE BALANCE
Book by UW-Waukesha professors examines media’s effects on expectations

By Katherine Michalets - Freeman Staff

June 16, 2015

WAUKESHA — The question of whether people can “have it all” when it comes to work and personal life has been asked and debated for many years, but during their recent book research, University of Wisconsin-Waukesha professors Ellyn Lem and Tim Dunn learned it was a bad question.

What’s more important is to have realistic expectations and not fall into the traps that media often sets by portraying women and men doing it all easily, which can then result in guilty feelings when real people can’t reach the same place as fictional characters, Lem said.

Tim Dunn    
Submitted photo

Ellyn Lem    
Submitted photo

Their book, “The Work-Family Debate in Popular Culture: Can Women and Men ‘Have it All?” addresses both genders — whereas many efforts in the past have focused on women — and also explores work-life balance for single people.

Lem, an English professor at UW-Waukesha, said she and Dunn, an associated professor of philosophy at UWW, were inspired by Anne-Marie Slaughter, the president and CEO of New America, a think tank and civic enterprise, and a previous director of policy planning for the U.S. Department of State. When Slaughter wrote a popular article about the struggle to find the right balance between work and life, Dunn and Lem were encouraged to look into how popular culture plays into the topic.

During their research, Lem and Dunn observed some fairly accurate portrayals of the struggles many families experiences, such as an episode of “Roseanne” when some of the characters are required to put in overtime and are left scrambling to get babysitters. There is also the opposite example of the mother on “The Cosby Show” working a high-profile professional job, but then not portraying how she was able to do it all so well.

Dunn said he believes media can do more and affect change, such as it did with its representation of gay and lesbian issues and same-sex marriage, which was followed by legislative changes.

Work-life imbalance has costs

Pretty much every type of program illustrates the struggle of finding the right work-life balance, such as a cop show where the officer spends a lot of time at the station and not with his family. The pressure to be the family breadwinner can be stressful for the dad, Dunn said.

“The cost of spending so much time in the office is you don’t have a family or anything to do when you retire,” he said.

Change can also come from the worker and a company’s management.

Dunn and Lem said if people open their eyes to some of the “injustices” they are experiencing, they can affect legislation.

Of late, more men have expressed a desire to have paternity leave and flex time to spend time with their families.

Lem said a study showed that men who had paternity time with their newborns continued to be more invested and spend more time as an active parent throughout the child’s life.

If a proposal is initiated to help families with children achieve a healthier balance, modifications could be made for single people or those without children, Dunn said.

“We are living such busy lives, but to our detriment,” Lem said.

Research shows that working mothers today are spending as much time with their children as stay-at-home mothers were spending in the 1950s and 1960s.

Dunn said he was struck by the unilateral support for families.

“People across party lines are calling for greater flexibility in the workplace,” he said.

Lem said she is seeing more companies advertising themselves as “family friendly” and offering programs to attract more workers, such as offering a place for children to do homework after school.

While the “The Work-Family Debate in Popular Culture” is an academic book, it is written in a style easily read by everyone, Dunn said.

“We are all struggling. We feel a connection with other people when we read this,” he said.

Helping workers achieve that healthier work-life balance, Dunn said, is also a good business decision because it can lead to more productive, happier and healthier employees.

Dunn and Lem’s book is available on

At a glance

What: Discussion of the book, “The Work-Family Debate in Popular Culture: Can Women and Men ‘Have it All?”
When: 7 p.m. June 25
Where: Waukesha Public Library, 321 Wisconsin Ave.
Who: The book’s co-authors, University of Wisconsin-Waukesha professors Ellyn Lem and Tim Dunn
Info: or 262-524-3682.