Plugged in 24/7: paying the workaholic price

"I JUST want to sleep and exercise and travel for fun."

"I JUST want to sleep and exercise and travel for fun." Those are the simple things Hillary Clinton wants when she steps down as Secretary of State, a role she estimates has taken her over 1.5 million kilometres to 112 countries. But, in her final weeks of duty, she's not winding down, even as work takes its toll.

Clinton, 65, looked pale and tired as she walked from a New York hospital on Thursday after treatment for a blood clot she is thought to have developed after collapsing from dehydration, caused by a bug she contracted on a trip to Europe.

Clinton, who was ordered to rest, had spoken to Qatar's foreign minister to discuss Syria and Afghanistan from her sick bed, and had been in regular contact with colleagues.

It was in stark contrast to Clinton's television appearance last month, when she sat in front of twinkling Christmas trees, her hair smoothly coiffed, and laughed as she admitted to journalist Barbara Walters she was absolutely exhausted.

The New York Times recently reported that the political veteran, who speaks passionately about many things, had turned her intense focus to her deep longing to relax.

"It sounds so ordinary, but I haven't done it for 20 years. I would like to see whether I can get untired," she told the newspaper.

Clinton, who plans to return to work next week, is one of many famous political workaholics.

In his early days as prime minister, Kevin Rudd showed off his extreme work ethic by flying around the world in 17 days before hosting a community cabinet meeting in Penrith, fresh-faced and enthusiastic.

There were other infamous tales of Rudd only sleeping three hours most nights and having marathon work sessions through the night with staff.

Dr Kristine Dery, from the University of Sydney business school, said Australians did not necessarily expect leaders to burn the midnight oil. "When you see non-sustainable work patterns, which is clearly the way in which Kevin Rudd had worked, people burn out around them and they burn out," she said.

"What you see with those people is they are using old work paradigms and just working harder and faster."

Professor Ian McAllister, from the school of politics and international relations at the Australian National University, has been surveying Australian MPs since 1987 and found their working hours were rising.

According to his research, MPs reported spending 54 hours a month dealing with constituents' problems in 2010, up from 48 hours in 1996. Meanwhile, travel time spiked at 21 hours per month in 2010, compared with 16 hours in 2007 and 18 or 19 hours in previous years.

"The expansion of government has created great pressures on elected representatives," McAllister said.

"Maybe 20 or 30 years ago, people could take holidays in a fairly leisurely way, these days they basically can't. Part of it is the legislative burden, part of it is the 24-hour media cycle."

It is greater accountability, says Dr Juliet Pietsch, also from ANU, driving the hard work ethic. "We're definitely having a feeling that we can have much more of a say about the personal qualities of leaders," Pietsch said. "What Australians appear to value is strong leadership and hard work comes with that, that sense of always being in control and watching over things."

It isn't just our political leaders who have been working over the holidays, but professionals in law, finance and IT. Peter Hardy, a computer system infrastructure manager, has taken work calls near the peak of a mountain in Thailand, spent a two-day family holiday doing nothing but work, and waited months to find out what happened in the last 20 minutes of The Avengers.

Hardy often works long hours and into the weekends because his company provides 24/7 support to its clients.

"I've restarted services from intercity trains, from the back of the mosh pit, and in the toilet while on dates," he said.

Hardy spent about two days working during his fortnight of Christmas leave, but managed to do some of it while sitting at his local pub or visiting friends.

He said his company had a good policy of time in lieu for weekend work, and he was learning to successfully juggle his work and personal lives.

"All I can really do is resolve to be a little bit better at managing expectations this year, and try to remove some of the issues that lead to having to work extra hours in the first place."

Early on Christmas Day, Cassandra Kelly picked up her BlackBerry and checked work emails. Her little black, beeping connection to the outside world followed her on a camping trip and, in busy times, it will occasionally accompany her to the beach.

But Kelly, joint CEO of corporate advisory firm Pottinger, said her connection to work during holidays actually gave her more freedom.

"I understand for some other people that that's not how it's going to feel for them, but that is how it feels for me," she said. "Some people see them as a constraint and I see them as a route to much greater flexibility or freedom in how I operate.

"I love my job. I find world news and world events very interesting. I love learning, I deeply care about making a contribution to the community and the world. But I know there are times when I just need peace and quiet. I'm aware of that and there are times when I need to be able to decompress and cease all the connectedness, to stop some of [the] thinking and noise and allow my mind to steady."

Dery said there was always an expectation that professionals worked hard, but now they had the tools to do it in a relaxed setting. "What has happened in the past is they've had to spend more time in the office or where they are connected," she said.

"Now they've got the opportunity to be more flexible and remain connected.

"What you hear from a lot of people in these industries is 'actually a lot of stress has come out of it because I can go home at night and I'm still able to look at email and I'm still able to be connected'."

Kate Eastman, SC, a barrister in human rights and employment law, took pleasure in a trip to the movies with her daughter during the Christmas holidays.

"Just to be able to do things that I don't have time to do during the year. I know that sounds odd that you don't have time to go to the cinema, but I usually work at least half a day each weekend," she said.

"I love that flexibility of this time of the year that you can take up the opportunities as they arise, rather than have to pre-plan everything and put everybody into a schedule."

But, Eastman said, it was important to manage people's expectations of your availability. "It's not uncommon for people to expect that you'll be able to respond to an email or return a phone call almost instantly," she said. "It can be oppressive at times when you've got other commitments and you just can't be 24/7 for people. How Hillary Clinton does her job, I don't know."

InvestSMART FORUM: Come and meet the team

We're loading up the van and going on tour from April to June, with events on the NSW central & north coast, the QLD mid-north coast and in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra. Come and meet the team and take home simple strategies that you can use to build an investment portfolio to weather any storm. Book your spot here.

Want access to our latest research and new buy ideas?

Start a free 15 day trial and gain access to our research, recommendations and market-beating model portfolios.

Sign up for free

Related Articles