The Fourth of July is a perfect time to enjoy a bit of summertime away from your office desk. But if you are early on in your career, or happen to work in the bustling startup world, and are trying to make this year’s Independence Day into a long weekend by taking a few extra days off work, the world’s nicest boss Bill Gates may have something to say.
The 63-year-old former Microsoft CEO now takes a lot of vacations and pays high respect to his employees’ work-life balance, as well. But dialing back 40 years, he was previously known for never taking a day off from work.
“I think you could over worship and mythologize the idea of working extremely hard. For my particular makeup—and it really is true that I didn’t believe in weekends; I didn’t believe in vacations,” Gates said of his early career at an event hosted by venture capital firm Village Global last month.
“I have a fairly hardcore view that there should be a very large sacrifice made during those early years,” he explained, “particularly if you’re trying to do some engineering things that you have to get the feasibility.”
That harsh expectation extended to his staff, too. “I mean, I knew everybody’s license plate so I could tell you over the last month when their cars had come and gone from the parking lot,” Gates said, adding that he wouldn’t recommend this approach to other managers nowadays, because “I don’t think most people would enjoy it.”
That intense lifestyle didn’t change until Gates entered his 30s, more specifically not until after meeting his future wife, Melinda.
“By then, some natural behavior kicked in, and I loved weekends,” he said. “You know, my girlfriend liked vacations. And that turned out to be kind of a neat thing. Now, I take lots of vacation. My 20-year-old self is so disgusted with my current self.”
Gates admitted that once a company achieves a reasonable scale, this type of workaholic culture needs to be changed. Today’s Microsoft, with a market value of over $1 trillion dollars, has one of the nation’s most generous vacation policies. An average employee gets three weeks of vacation time, two weeks of sick leave and a number of floating holidays, according to Glassdoor reviews.
The Gates family’s nonprofit vehicle, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is also blazing trails in extending paid family leave in the U.S. Until January of this year, the Gates Foundation offered employees 52 weeks of paid family leave. That benefit was then partially replaced by a cash stipend due to challenges in redistributing workload.