Jeff Bezos doesn’t like the phrase “work-life balance” — but not for the reasons you might think.
The Amazon CEO spoke at Recode’s Code Conference on Tuesday evening and was asked about whether the widely-read New York Times exposé published last year —which described Amazon’s workplace culture as back-stabbing, mean and lacking empathy — made him rethink how employees are treated at his company.
The short answer: no.
“I’m very proud of the culture we have at Amazon,” Bezos said. “I think of it as a gold standard culture for innovation and pioneering work.”
Bezos penned a memo in response to The Times piece this past August that noted how he didn’t recognize the company described in the article, which told a story of workers who are frequently driven to tears, weeded out after encountering medical issues, and battling within a competitive stack-rank system that encourages employees to undermine one another.
On Tuesday, Bezos said that a company like Amazon which prides itself on offering optimal customer service can’t do so with folks that are frustrated or angry or discouraged.
“If you are giving a great customer experience, the only way to do that is with happy people,” he said. “You can’t do it with a set of miserable people watching the clock all day.”
Recode co-founder Walt Mossberg followed up by asking Bezos about work-life balance. The Amazon founder said he prefers to use the phrase “work-life harmony” because to him, balance “implies a strict trade.”
“I find that when I am happy at work, I come home more energized and I’m a better husband and a better dad; when I’m happy at home, I come in and I’m a better boss and a better colleague. You can be out of work and have terrible work-life balance. Even though you have all the time in the world, you can just feel miserable and you would be draining energy. You have to find that harmony. It’s a much better word.”
Bezos added that most people want to find meaning in their work — to know that what they are doing each day is interesting and useful. He said Amazon employees “get to work in the future” and noted how that is “super fun,” but cautioned that the Seattle e-commerce giant is not a place for everyone.
“Our environment embraces a lot of change — we have to, because the internet is changing and the technologies we use are changing,” he said. “… For somebody who hated change, I imagine high tech would be a pretty bad career. It would be very tough. There are much more stable industries and they should probably choose one of those more stable industries with less change. They’ll probably be happier there.”
Bezos said it would be hard for him to do a job where he had to do the same thing every day.
“I’d do it, and I’d do it at a high quality level,” he said. “But I wouldn’t like it.”