Hillary Clinton’s Emails Illustrate The Difficulties Of Achieving Work-Life Balance

One former member of her staff went on to become a prominent voice on the issue.
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WASHINGTON -- Hillary Clinton has long been a champion of policies to facilitate work-life balance, particularly for women. Yet as secretary of state, members of her staff reported feeling stressed and found it difficult to take time off.

Part of the trove of State Department emails released late Monday show staffers discussing the breakneck pace of their work and imploring each other to take days off.

In one 2009 email sent to top Clinton aide Huma Abedin but directed to Clinton, Anne-Marie Slaughter urged Clinton to begin her Christmas vacation a few days early, on Dec. 21. "I would urge you to -- for your own sake. The pace is absolutely killing and you deserve it,” she wrote.

Slaughter added that if Clinton decided to take that day off, other staffers “would feel much freer to do so.”

State Department

Other emails reveal that Clinton was very interested in work-life balance and the detrimental health effects of hectic work schedules. At one point, she instructed a staffer to print out articles about the effects that a lack of sleep has on women’s health.

Yet one State Department speechwriter stayed up for 100 hours straight writing a speech for Clinton, according to one email.

In another email, Slaughter thanked Clinton for taking a snow day during a blizzard in February 2010.

"Your staying home tomorrow will make lots of parents at higher levels feel ok about staying home with their kids. I may be one of them!" she said.

State Department

But Clinton expressed disagreement with the government’s decision to declare the snow day, calling it "silly" in a different email.

State Department

Slaughter, who served as the State Department’s director for policy planning, stepped down in 2011, in part because of the strains of the job. She later wrote a famous article for The Atlantic about the struggles of achieving work-life balance for women, citing her experiences at the State Department. In particular, she wrote that the job made it difficult for her to spend time with her two teenage children.

“I could no longer be both the parent and the professional I wanted to be -- at least not with a child experiencing a rocky adolescence,” she wrote.

Slaughter noted that Clinton was supportive of her staff and conceded that the State Department had relatively flexible vacation policies compared to other workplaces.

“I was entitled to four hours of vacation per pay period, which came to one day of vacation a month. And I had it better than many of my peers in D.C.; Secretary Clinton deliberately came in around 8 a.m. and left around 7 p.m., to allow her close staff to have morning and evening time with their families (although of course she worked earlier and later, from home),” she wrote.

But as she argued in the article, even that was not enough. Work-life balance is a systemic issue that requires changing workplace policies, attitudes and culture.

Slaughter’s article sparked a national discussion about work-life balance, and she has since become a prominent voice on women’s issues.

Clinton herself weighed in on the article soon after it was published in 2012, though State Department officials later disputed the context of her comments and claimed that she was not referring to Slaughter’s piece.

"I can't stand whining," Clinton said at the time. "I can't stand the kind of paralysis that some people fall into because they're not happy with the choices they've made. You live in a time when there are endless choices. ... Money certainly helps, and having that kind of financial privilege goes a long way, but you don't even have to have money for it. But you have to work on yourself. ... Do something!"

"Some women are not comfortable working at the pace and intensity you have to work at in these jobs. ... Other women don't break a sweat," she added. "They have four or five, six kids. They're highly organized, they have very supportive networks."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed an email to Clinton aide Huma Abedin. The email was sent to Abedin but directed to Clinton.

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