“You can’t do it with miserable people watching the clock all day”: Jeff Bezos on work-life harmony

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon and owner of the Washington Post

Jeff Bezos: "I like to use the phrase work-life harmony." Image: REUTERS/Gary Cameron

Ceri Parker
Previously Commissioning Editor, Agenda, World Economic Forum
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Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, shared his thoughts on how to foster innovation at work, the importance of happiness, and the job he would most hate to do, in an interview at the Code Conference 2016.


From using drones to deliver parcels on earth to eventually colonising Mars, innovation is clearly crucial to Bezos’ business ambitions. Speaking at the conference, he described what it took to undertake “pioneering work.”

“I work with people who are missionaries for what they do,” he said. “The only way to do it is with happy people. You can’t do it with miserable people watching the clock all day.”

While the idea of “work-life balance” has almost mythical status among over-stressed office workers, Bezos argued that the concept needed refining.

“I like to use the phrase work-life harmony rather than balance. To me balance implies a strict trade whereas I find that when I’m happy at work I come home more energised, I’m a better husband, a better Dad. When I’m happy at home, I come back a better colleague and a better boss.”

He conceded that what made people happy at work varied greatly, describing his own nightmare scenario: not a space shuttle to Mars crashing and burning, but a job processing insurance claims.

“We’re not all the same. For me the job that would be hardest would be insurance claims adjustor or something, where I had the same job every day and it didn’t change frequently.”

Along with monotony, Bezos is also unimpressed by Powerpoints. In an email to his senior managers in 2004, he wrote:

“Powerpoint-style presentations somehow give permission to gloss over ideas, flatten out any sense of relative importance, and ignore the interconnectedness of ideas.”

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