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‘Disappoint me greatly’: Biden’s letter to staff on work-life balance

Lucy Dean
·4-min read
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden smiles while speaking during a roundtable on economic reopening with community members, Thursday, June 11, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Joe Biden's letter to staff has resurfaced.. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The US presidency is one of the toughest jobs, and has been known to seemingly age those who take it on prematurely.

But President-elect Joe Biden may escape some of the worst effects of high office, as a 2014 letter to staff on the importance of work-life balance indicates.

The now-77-year-old sent the memo during his time as vice president ahead of the November Thanksgiving holidays, urging them to prioritise their families and their wellbeing.

Biden said he strongly supports taking time off to meet family needs, describing it as an “unwritten rule”.

He said this goes for birthdays, anniversaries, religious holidays and family events.

Here’s the full note:

“To My Wonderful Staff,

“I would like to take a moment and make something clear to everyone. I do not expect nor do I want any of you to miss or sacrifice important family obligations for work. Family obligations include but are not limited to family birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, any religious ceremonies such as first communions and bar mitzvahs, graduations, and times of need such as illness or a loss in the family.

This is very important to me. In fact, I will go so far as to say that if I find out that you are working with me while missing important family responsibilities, it will disappoint me greatly. This has been an unwritten rule since my days in the Senate.

“Thank you all for the hard work.”

Family a focus for President-elect Joe Biden

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, right, rests his head in his hand during a viewing for his son, former Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, Thursday, June 4, 2015, at Legislative Hall in Dover, Del. Standing with Vice President Biden are Beau Biden's widow, Hallie, from left, and daughter Natalie, and the the vice president's wife Jill. Beau Biden died of brain cancer Saturday at age 46. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)
Joe Biden at his son's funeral in 2015. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)

Biden’s family was a key pillar of his election campaign. The Democrat lost his first wife, Neilia, and one-year-old daughter, Naomi, in a car accident just weeks after being elected to the Senate in 1972.

He was sworn into office from the hospital where his two infant sons, Beau and Hunter, were being treated for their critical injuries.

The future President has been known for his commitment to his family, making a four-hour daily commute so he could spend the evening with his sons in Delaware every day during his time in the Senate.

“I began to commute thinking I was only going to stay a little while – four hours a day, every day – from Washington to Wilmington, which I've done for over 37 years,” he told the Yale graduating class of 2015.

“I did it because I wanted to be able to kiss them goodnight and kiss them in the morning the next day. No ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ breakfast or great familial thing, just climb in bed with them.”

He said he realised children would hold onto a thought they want to share with their parents for as many as 24 hours, but when it’s gone, it’s gone.

“And it all adds up.

“But looking back on it, the truth be told, the real reason I went home every night was that I needed my children more than they needed me.”

He said critics had suggested he ought to spend more time in Washington, and that he wasn’t serious about his role.

“But I realised I didn't miss a thing. Ambition is really important. You need it. And I certainly have never lacked in having ambition. But ambition without perspective can be a killer.”

In the same speech, he said that directing his focus to his two young sons following the car accident that claimed his wife and daughter was his pathway forward.

"The incredible bond I have with my children is the gift I'm not sure I would have had, had I not been through what I went through," he said.

Weeks after the speech, Biden lost his son Beau to brain cancer, leading him to drop out of the presidential race a year later.

Biden will take office on 20 January 2021.


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