May 17, 2012 / Opportunity

Picture It: Work-Life Balance


The following article is cross-post with the express permission from the blog Female Science Professor. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda.

On occasion, I seek out images of Work-Life Balance (WLB), and today I decided that it was time to share some of my image-research results, inspired by assorted posts on WLB on other blogs this week (for example, here and here).Here’s how it started, this image-research: Every once in a while, I encounter an image that attempts to depict the challenges of Work-Life Balance. I find most of these disturbing, disappointing, and/or bizarre. Some don’t even illustrate what the accompanying text is attempting to say. For example, if your message is that Work-Life Balance Is Possible, why show something impossible in the illustration? If you are writing about the particular difficulty of WLB for mothers with young children, why have an illustration of a frazzled man in a suit? etc. There may be a disconnect between the people doing the writing and the people providing the graphics. This is obvious from even a cursory search of WLB images.Nevertheless, I started actively searching for WLB images, for no real reason, and I have even tried to create one of my own, with less than satisfactory results. It’s difficult. Clearly.I am sure you can easily guess some of the major elements in typical WLB images. The Big Three are:

  • scales, balances, see-saws (I hate these); non-rigorously-tested observation: about equal numbers of these either show “work” and “life” as balanced or show “work” tipping the scale. Rare ones show “life” tipping the scale;
  • people (typically women) apparently juggling lots of different fake objects (I hate these too);
  • road signs (at 90° or 180° to each other) (more hate);

with a not-insignificant number of:

  • Venn diagrams (snore).

Slightly more interesting, though not necessarily better, are:

    • people (typically men in suits) on bicycles;
    • people (typically women) doing more than one thing at once, in some cases with more than 2 arms;
    • rounded beach pebbles in piles or other precarious configurations.

In my non-extensive, non-systematic search, I found no images with cats. I think that is worth noting.

There are, however, a lot of clocks, of the old fashioned tick-tock kind, many with alarm bells.

Does anyone actually like WLB images involving scales? For example, with the word “work” on one side and “life” on the other. Let’s find out! A poll for choosing which of the following images you think is the best, most evocative, accurate, and/or compelling WLB image is below a series of images that I found online. The heading of each image is a link to the source of that image, and biased editorial comments are in the captions.


Here is a slightly-more-interesting-than-usual example of the balance/see-saw type of WLB image. Is that a man-figure balanced between a child-clinging-to-woman-who-is-turning-away-slightly and a clock that seems to represent work? Why is the man-figure falling backwards? I personally hate this image, but don’t let that influence you. Do you think this shows 11 AM or 11 PM?


This one shows up in more than one place, and I’m not sure what the original source is. Again, I don’t want to influence your vote or anything, but I am not fond of this one because the guy in the suit seems to be balancing a briefcase with nothing. What does that even mean? Also, the terrain is a bit flat, so I am unimpressed overall with this image.


zzzzzzzz. These things almost always have a laptop and a baby. The other stuff varies: briefcases, cell phones, hobby items blah blah blah.


An example of a road sign image. One bizarre thing about this one is that it is associated with the headline “Work Life Balance – Yes!. And yet, the image screams “Work or Life: You Choose, or Go In A Totally Different Direction for Balance.” Or something.


Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! This may be the one I hate the most! This one tempted me to change the contest from voting on the best image to voting on the most appalling, but I decided not to ‘go negative’ with the contest. I hope at the very least that she is ironing her own shirt.


This one isn’t as bad as the typical “scale/balance” image, mostly because it asks the cosmic question: which rock = work and which rock = life? It doesn’t seem to matter! This is a very positive image, even if I don’t believe it is “real.” 


More rocks! There are quite a few of these beach-pebble images, with rocks in towers, cairns, apparently precarious but structurally sound arches etc. Why?? Is it because roundish flattish pebbles such as can be found on some beaches can be balanced up to a point and that is a powerful, gender-neutral image?


Whoa. The woman is balancing the kids and the man in the suit is.. what? Walking towards them to help? Is he insane? He should walk the other way or the whole thing will tip over?


This might as well be a photo of me at work when my daughter was an infant, except that computer monitors were not as flat and cell phones weren’t as common and also my daughter took her work as my research assistant much more seriously than this frivolous baby and my daughter was much much cuter. Other than that, this is an inspiring photo for all professional women.

WLB 10

The railroad track imagery is a bitdisturbing. Is there a train coming? Is this person suicidal? A dare-devil? Where is that right foot about to land? Is there a “third rail?” Is this person wearing clothes or did they forget to put them on owing to problems with work-life balance?

There are of course many more image and types of images, but I think is time for reflection and voting now. You will have to decide how you define “favorite”, but if the poll settings work as they should, you can vote for more than one “favorite”.

Visit here and scroll to the bottom of the page to vote!