Bill Gates arrives to speak during the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S.


  • Bill Gates said that taking time off is as important as the work itself
  • He encouraged Northern Arizona University graduates to continue making history
  • He previously revealed that he was a tough boss during the early years of Microsoft

Microsoft founder Bill Gates wishes he realized the importance of work-life balance earlier.

While delivering a speech at a commencement ceremony Saturday, the tech billionaire told the graduates of Northern Arizona University (NAU) that during his early years at Microsoft, he didn't believe in taking days off or going on vacations. He also revealed that he would keep track of employees who would leave early or stay late.

But he said that when he got older and became a father, he realized that "there is more to life than work."

"Take a break when you need to," Gates said, The Hill reported. "Take it easy on the people around you when they need it, too."

He also told the crowd to not take as long as he did to improve their work-life balance.

"Don't wait as long as I did to learn this lesson. Take time to nurture your relationships, to celebrate your successes, and to recover from your losses," he said.

Gates also encouraged the graduating class to "have some fun," saying that whatever they are doing now probably won't impact their future.

"You probably feel a lot of pressure right now to make the right decisions about your career. It might feel like those decisions are permanent," he said. "They're not. What you do tomorrow—or for the next 10 years—does not have to be what you do forever."

Gates previously admitted that he was a tough boss during his early days at Microsoft. His biographers told CNBC in 2020 that the billionaire used to send "flame mail," or critical and sarcastic emails, to his employees, sometimes even in the middle of the night.

He also told NAU graduates that it's OK if they feel confused at times and that they should lean on peers to work things through.

"At some point in your career, you will find yourself facing a problem you cannot solve on your own," he said Saturday, according to CNBC. "When that happens, don't panic. Take a breath. Force yourself to think things through. And then find smart people to learn from."

"You have already made history by attending college during some truly unprecedented times. I have no doubt that you will continue to make history throughout the rest of your lives," he added.

Gates also said that he "cannot wait to see how you will drive progress around the world."

American billionaire Bill Gates is the co-founder of TerraPower
POOL via AFP / Evan Vucci