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Jeff Bezos' advice: Don't aim for work-life balance; it's a circle (businessinsider.com)
47 points by jrs235 on Apr 30, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 49 comments

Easy for him to say. If you're at the bottom, you get little satisfaction or recognition for performing well, and are instead judged based on things like how much time you've spent in the office, how much code you've written, and how much your superiors like you.

Don't listen to what the guy at the top is telling you to do with your life. Ever. But do nod and smile when he says it.

I agree with all of this, except for "nod and smile."

If you don't work there, then I think it's best to hold leaders emotionally accountable for their effect on the world. If you do work there, then it's really up to you, but there's a middle ground where you don't legitimize the system but don't rock the boat.

For example, you could just not nod, and not smile. And only pretend to clap after the next announcement. And if everybody does this, it adds up without anybody being a target.

> For example, you could just not nod, and not smile. And only pretend to clap after the next announcement. And if everybody does this, it adds up without anybody being a target.

This is hilarious and terrifying.

Exactly. Doesn't take much thought to realize that a guy with $100 billion dollars has no idea what the average life is like, and has no reason to be giving life advice.

"If you're at the bottom for long / You're doing something wrong."

Definitely don't listen to the people at the bottom telling you how to run your life. Ideally, listen to people who started where you started, and rose to where you want to get.

Bezos himself started fairly low. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Bezos#Early_life_and_educ...

> Definitely don't listen to the people at the bottom telling you how to run your life. Ideally, listen to people who started where you started, and rose to where you want to get.

There's a lot of bad advice there too. People like to attribute their success to something they did but most people have no clue why they are successful. Luck has a lot to do with it and sometimes people succeed in spite of things they think might help.

Who would you rather be: the person who attributes their success to their actions, or the person who complains about not being successful?

You don't necessarily have control over whether you're successful, but you have a lot of control over how you see yourself and your personal narrative.

Why would i want to be anyone but myself? But to answer your point, arrogance and ignorance are not something to covet and neither is whining.

This is advice for Amazon employees specifically. The incentives are not for him to give advice on how to become Jeff Bezos.

and wear your fourteen pieces of "flare"


You've been posting a bunch of unsubstantive comments to HN. Would you please stop?


"I love to come into the office with tremendous energy", says world's richest man as he devises even crueler ways to exploit his employees.

It’s easy for him because he distances himself from that aspect and only deals with what he wants. He hires managers to get their hands dirty for him. It’s just like how I buy my beef in a tidy packet at a glimmering supermarket and don’t have to consider the slaughterhouse at all.

We hear all the time that money can't buy happiness, here in HN no less, and you are saying he has such a perfect life that he doesn't deserve to give any life advice? Who should we be listening to?

Not sure if you spend time to read at all, but what he said is essentially you can't be happy at home if you are miserable at work, and vice versa. Which makes sense to me. Too obvious to be honest.

This is true. But he is directly responsible for the culture that makes many of his employees miserable at work.

In my experience those at the very top are horrified when they find out that their staff believe that the boss requires them to enslave themselves to the company.

I believe that in many cases cultures of overwork are intrinsically generated, not imposed from on high. It could be fear of the boss, it could be a ruthless layer of middle management, it could be example-setting by perceived high fliers. Nothing is ever done about it because nobody wants to bother the execs with that sort of nebulous and sticky issue (especially one which sounds like whining).

It often happens with very driven and brilliant leaders, the types who themselves frequently work very hard and very long hours. Doubtless there is some social primate leader emulation dynamic, something we are helpless to escape.

That's one way to look at it.

Alternatively, I'd think middle management people are doing exactly what they were hired for. In most cases, their job is to simply act as a buffer and propagate upper layer's wishes to mere mortals, without them losing face or being directly involved in any kind of conflict.

It builds a culture of uncertainty and doubt and more layers of management means less perceived value and power for individual contributors. I can definitely see the value it provides to those at the top.

> In most cases, their job is to simply act as a buffer and propagate upper layer's wishes to mere mortals

Well, they're there to take care of the details of implementing the execs' orders. That is a necessary function for scale. An analogy: Field Marshal Haig wants a village taken. He doesn't shout at the infantry; rather there's a chain of command which fractally decomposes the order into a coherent plan for achieving the goal. We'll need artillery to soften the defenses, then infantry will flank the fortifications; ok put a battery here and load it up with this kind of shell; and so on down to the platoon level where little groups of soldiers will tackle micro-scale obstacles along the way (there's an enemy sniper in that church, etc.) So the reasons for hiring this layer are sound.

I'm not really arguing with you though: it does provide value to those at the top (arguably not necessarily long-term value). I just don't think, in most cases, that it's a conscious Machiavellian plan to stuff the mid-tier with remote-controlled, plausibly deniable bastards. I just think that people in those positions end up exhibiting bastardish behavior circumstantially. (Although of course if there was such a devious scheme anywhere, it'd probably be Amazon.) So I still think that it's largely intrinsic.

I definitely don't think it's intrinsically generated. The reality at ground level is that your manager will almost always fill your plate at least a bit higher than you can reasonably fit in, because there is always room to do more work until there isn't. The more you can do, the better your manager looks.

There's another important dynamic: your manager will often be able to get more done in the same time than you will if your manager does it himself/herself, because the manager is typically more experienced and wields power in a way that you can't. This stays true for each step up the hierarchy. Since managers often gauge a reasonable amount of work for the employee based on how long it takes the manager, there's a disconnect in anticipated workload too.

Finally, the higher you go, the more you are able to buy into a strategy and vision. If you're at ground level, executing on that strategy often means spending days squashing bugs. It's much harder to buy into the big picture when your immediate picture looks like more of the same as everywhere else.

Not to say "you shouldn't work hard," but I do think there are structural reasons why ground level is a less motivating place to be.

But those are all intrinsic factors - as in, they are self-generated by the middle management layer. They're not imposed from on high.

To enumerate:

- Manager fills plate higher, accrues rewards.

- Manager judges your target output based on her ability.

- Manager buys in to strategy and vision (because of access), becomes more motivated.

Well, even if the CEO doesn't mastermind the overwork, I think a leader is responsible for everything that happens beneath them. They have full visibility (if they choose) and hired those middle-managers (or the people who hired them).

I suspect that the real problem is the incentives for those middle managers. The CEO often may set those without understanding the consequences for the people below the middle managers...

I think that, counterintuitively, that's a stronger argument at larger firms. There you have surveys and metrics and more room to focus on how the work gets done (rather than being in a mad scramble just to do it).

Smaller companies, everyone is in execution mode and superhuman efforts often get rewarded simply because they generate a good result.

I fully agree with this. I've vocally and silently disagreed with middle managers (never seen it from higher ups) pushing for employees to work longer hours and haven't had any issues. I've certainly had to communicate my boundaries but I've found that once you do, people respect them.

It's interesting how puff pieces about a specific person usually seem to crop up all around the same time.

Well you have to offset treating your employees like shit.

Be a billionaire, then you don't have to worry about your work-life balance.

Bezos is a really smart guy but here, I beg to differ. I interviewed for a management role over at Amazon. I asked them what they thought of work life balance and how many hours are we talking about a week. 60 or so was the minimum, and that doesn't include lunches. 12+ hour days didn't seem like something you can sustain no matter how much energy you have.

Sooner or later, you will get physically and mentally exhausted at work, even though you have lots of fun doing so before you get wiped out.

I also informed them that if your engineers are working 70+ hours a week basically every week, then you don't have an engineering problem but a management problem. It's no longer a work-life balance, but purely a work-work balance, and that it was up to management to ensure that they don't burn their engineers out.

I didn't get to the next round (thankfully). I didn't "fit their culture". So I thanked them and moved on. Better for them, better for me.

I personally want people who are effective, and can put in a solid day of work. I still pull wisdom from, "Debugging the Development Process" back from 1994. I think it still holds true today for many aspects of software engineering. Or am I really an outdated curmudgeon?

Live the circle. Feed the circle. Be the circle.

Whatever you do, don't be the low-energy guy in a meeting.

Thanks for the "advice".

"Live the circle. Feed the circle. Be the circle."

Gavin Belson?

I'm sure this applies to the typical Amazon worker sweating out sixteen hour days in non air conditioned warehouses for close to minimum wage and forgoing bathroom breaks because of draconian management that starts directly with Bezos. /s

Bezos is completely out of touch with the reality of work for most workers, including most Amazon workers. Maybe for CEOs this advice might make sense, but it's bad advice for most other workers, including most Amazon workers. It's simply a plug trying to get workers to give up even more of their time in exchange for nothing so the company can get more out of them. Bezos is the last person on earth, literally, who should be giving workers advice. Few people are so out of touch with the lives of regular workers as Bezos is.

how much truly free time does one have on a work day?

Work, sleep, commute, eat, keep yourself fed, keep you and the house clean, maybe do some exercise and a bit of whatever out of the ordinary needs to be done (shopping for new shoes, fixing stuff in the house, doing the taxes).

Leaves maybe 4h and it's fair to have to rest 1 of it with some no-brain activity.

So 3h for family, romance, hobbies, learning non-job related stuff, politics, culture, reading, friends, side projects, building things, helping someone, etc...

That's why I'm doing everything within my power to work towards getting financially free. It's not easy and it takes time, but I'm getting closer than I've ever been.

I'll try to reduce work to 4 days a week soon (but I might wait for 12M at the company to pass and discus it along with a promised raise).

It's something more immediate and realistic than hoping index funds will carry me one day (and it avoids some taxes... the 8 extra hours don't pay so well after taxes).

Good luck to you though, I hope it all works out for us!

Same boat. It's just hard to ask for more money and less hours at the same time. I'm trying to argue give me a smaller increase at reducing a day to be able to focus on hobby projects or just mental health. Unsure if it'll happen but fingers crossed!

Are you in germany by and chance? Law is in this case on the workers side here. (but of course I hope not to have to reference the law at all...)

I'm not but that sounds great!

just curious, what does your definition of financially free. entail? living off residual income or what?

I'm not really that concerned about financial freedom right now. I am concerned with optionality. Meaning I never want to be stuck at a job I hate. For me that means a combination of staying marketable, keeping my network fresh, and being careful about "lifestyle inflation" so I won't have to always strive for the maximum income.

It's a big stress reliever knowing that if things go bad, you can always jump ship.

Two things: 1) a good bit of cash and 2) passive income from multiple diverse sources that I can live a good lifestyle from that passive income such that I don’t need to work anymore — though I’ll work for a long time because I enjoy it, but I'll do something specifically that I want to do.

Probably of the Mr. Money Moustache flavour, r/financialindependence. Basically say 750k in index funds so that even a 3% return would net you enough to cover your basic expenses, perpetually.

I guess he means something like this: https://networthify.com/calculator/earlyretirement?income=70...

Might work if you trust index funds, earn quite well in the first place or (plan to) live in a cheap country and you are willing to do the grind for a few years.

Stay-at-home spouse means you don't have to keep yourself fed or keep the house clean, and you have to do less of the ordinary needs as well. The stay-at-home spouse of course doesn't have to work or commute.

Yes, might be a fun option if all of this applies:

- freely chosen

- not feeling unaccomplished in comparison to the spouse

- not doing 8 hours of chores a day

- enjoying time with the kids (if applicable)

- still having a say in financial matters

- no old fashioned gender roles

- financially and educationally independent enough to survive comfortably alone if the partnership fails

- you actually want to be in that relationship

Not to be snide - but it's easy for the richest man on the planet to offer such platitudes while articles came out that his UK employees were pissing in bottles for fear of retribution for "circling" by the restroom for being less productive.

Have an expectation that the work-life balance is a circle i.e. it is zero

How practical is it to achieve this "harmony" when you are up late at night everyday trying to earn "points" in the latest development cycle? Oh well...

You could work for a while and then flee to $cheaper_place?

Let's go back to 1999 and ask him the same question. Heck, even at 2009 I'd like to see the changes between those two times.

I heard Bezos is also selling the new 520 bridge...

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