Billionaire businessman Richard Branson is telling some of his Virgin Group employees to take as much vacation time as they want.
They don’t have to ask permission first and no one will be keeping track, according to a company announcement, as long as they’re caught up on all projects and “their absence will not in any way damage the business — or, for that matter, their careers."
It may sound like a dream, but Scott Francis, and engineer, says an unlimited vacation policy wasn’t the perk he thought it would be.
“It sounded really cool to me until I started working at a company that had one,” he said. “The two problems that I had were not feeling like I had necessarily earned vacation because it wasn’t accruing, and also feeling like it was going to reflect negatively on me if I took vacation that wasn’t owed to me.”
Now, he’s changed jobs to a position which offers a set amount of vacation time, which he likes better. When his kids had the day off from school recently, he took a vacation day so they could spend it together, encouraged to do so because it would expire in a few months if he didn’t use it.
“It’s sometimes easier to accept something given to you, even if you don’t like it, than to be the one to decide how to extend this time off from work,” says Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She says Americans have a particularly strong work ethic and fear they’ll look lazy if they take too much vacation.
A survey of vacation time by the travel company Expedia found the average American has 14 vacation days, but only uses ten. Meanwhile, the French take all 30 days they’re allotted.
“The U.S. is more of a rat race that way,” says Robert Frank, an economist at Cornell University.
Despite the fact that many companies don’t offer much vacation time, employees feel reluctant to use their entire allotment for fear they’ll seem like slackers.
“You see the same problem in the decision of how long the workweek is at very competitive firms,” Frank says. “The investment bankers and the consultants work 65- or 80-hour workweeks, not because there’s that much to do, but because promotion chances are limited and the ones who are seen to be working the hardest are the most likely to get them.”
In terms of building trust between management and workers, a benefit of the unlimited vacation policy can be shifting workplace priorities from time spent at work to the amount of work accomplished, says Lotte Bailyn, an emeritus professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management.
But in practice, “without any guidelines, people are going to be quite nervous,” she says. “And we know in some companies, actually people have not been taking very much.”
One solution might be for management and executives to lead by example, she says, and dash off to Hawaii for a couple of weeks – living the dream.
Earlier, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said his country had uncovered a plot against New York City's subway system. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said there was no evidence of a plot.
You've heard how drones are being used in all kinds of industries, from real estate to agriculture to the movies. It turns out that in the U.S., most of those drones have been flying illegally. With a few exceptions, the Federal Aviation Administration has long banned the use of drones for commercial purposes, but it loosened those restrictions on Thursday.
Phil Finnegan, an aviation analyst with the Teal Group, said while the U.S. has led the world in developing the technology behind drones, it’s fallen far behind when it comes to letting them fly legally.
“Countries like Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom — a lot of European countries — are going after this market,” he says.
It’ll take the FAA several years to finalize regulations for all drones, Finnegan says, but he believes this initial move will make the American motion picture industry more competitive on the world stage.
The FAA announced six filming permits today. Ziv Marom is with ZM Interactive, which used drones to provide aerial shots in this summer's "The Expendables 3," and he applauded the FAA’s decision. But the process is moving slowly, he says, and we shouldn't expect a critical mass of movie drones anytime soon.
“It will take some time before people will actually get the permits,” Marom says.
Drone pilots will also have to follow strict regulations, Marom says, including rules for training and equipment.
But how will this affect the helicopter and airplane industry that has effectively cornered this market so far? Star Helicopters owner Keith Harter says he isn’t too worried that drones will cut into his business.
“There’s room for both types,” he says. And if that's not the case, Harter says most helicopter companies have diversified their business enough so that they don’t rely on the film industry as a sole source of revenue.
In the U.S., consumers account for the biggest share of waste in the food chain. Demand for stocked shelves and unblemished produce, and confusion over date labels lead to mountains of tossed meals.
This week new standards go into effect for California olive oil. The state is eager to grow its tiny share of the global olive oil market, which is currently at less than 1 percent. Demand in the U.S. is up, but the vast majority of the olive oil Americans buy still comes from the Mediterranean. That raises the question: Why isn’t California, which is blessed with a Mediterranean climate, an olive oil powerhouse like Spain or Italy?
In the 18th century, Spanish missionaries established a small olive oil trade, but American demand for olive oil was relatively small compared to demand for butter and vegetable oils. “Consider that 40 years ago, olive oil was sold in pharmacies in the United States,” says Eryn Balch, executive vice president at the North American Olive Oil Association, a trade group representing importers. It was “a specialized health product,” she says.
Italian cooks had always used it, of course, but it wasn’t until Americans focused more on heart-healthy eating that olive oil started flying off the shelves. U.S. consumers now buy more than three times the olive oil they did 20 years ago. It's been a significant enough jump to draw many California growers into the olive business. The state's drought also provides incentive. Olives are a less thirsty crop than, for example, almonds.
Thom Curry, general manager of Temecula Olive Oil in Southern California, says domestic olive oil is as good as Europe’s, and certainly higher quality than much of the cheap, imported oil sold in American supermarkets. Some of those imports are mislabeled as extra virgin when they’re not, according to reports over the past few years. Growers have complained to trade authorities about labeling fraud and generous European subsidies. But low-cost imports aren’t their only problem.
“I think we’re going to be limited for at least the near future by the amount of acres planted,” Curry says. “Once we get to tens and hundreds of thousands of acres, that’s when we can really start taking over the world.”
Just for comparison, right now California has about 35,000 acres in olive production, according to the California Olive Oil Council. Spain, meanwhile, has between 5 million and 6 million acres. But California growers are expanding quickly. “Right now, olives are the fastest growing specialty crop in California,” says the council’s executive director, Patty Darragh. She says California produced 1.2 million gallons of olive oil in 2011. Just two years later, it was producing almost three times that.
Much like California’s neophyte vintners in the '70s, olive-oil-makers in the state are trying to convince Americans to seek out domestic brands, even if some of them cost more than they’re used to paying. Many growers here are planting trees close together so they can harvest mechanically and cut costs. They’re also experimenting in new terrain. Temecula Olive Oil is expanding into the Imperial Valley, a dry, desolate region north of the Mexican border. “If they can grow there they can grow pretty much anywhere,” Curry says.
Supporters of California’s new labeling and testing rules hope they will signal “high quality” to consumers. “We want to make it easier for consumers to understand the product before them,” says Darragh.
One of the labeling rules bans using the term “light,” which denotes a type of oil common among imports. Darragh says many Americans falsely believe that means the oil is less caloric, though the term actually refers to the flavor and/or color.
Importers believe the new California rules are simply self-promotional. “They appear to be written in a way to name things based on a very specific flavor profile,” says NAOO's Balch. “They don’t take into account the reality of the broad market of olive oils today.”
Graphic by Shea Huffman
We asked our sources for their favorite things to eat with olive oil, but we want your favorite pairings too! Post your suggestions on our Facebook page and we'll add the best ones here.
Patty Darragh, California Olive Oil Council: Vanilla ice cream with olive oil drizzled on top with a dash of sea salt.
Trudy Batty, Temecula Olive Oil: Grilled peaches brushed with blood-orange olive oil.
Anne Lewis: "Broccoli tossed in olive oil and roasted at 400° for about 30 minutes with a little feta added after. #kneebuckle"
Todd Hoffman: "Vermouth and gin."
Beth Patrick: "Salmorejo."
Tom White: "Soft boiled eggs on toast... With avocado."
Jennifer Hamlin Lamott: "Fresh grape tomatoes, halved, with garlic olive oil, pepper, basil, and cubed fresh (whole milk) mozzarella."
Gwyn Alcock: "Popcorn. No, really. Regular Orville's kernels, popped homestyle in a saucepan with olive oil (rather than peanut oil or butter-flavored oil). Little salt. The better the oil, the better the popcorn."
The U.S. and its allies bombed 12 “modular” refineries in territory controlled by ISIS on Wednesday. The terror group is considered well-funded, in part because of oil revenue. But Middle East analysts say the refineries are unsophisticated, not unlike homemade moonshine operations.
“These refineries are so rudimentary,” says analyst Shwan Zulal of Carduchi Consulting in London. “It’s almost like distilling your alcohol at home. They get these big barrels and they just burn the petrol underneath it to get it distilled. You can make a new refinery in a week.”
Zulal says private citizens – often a couple of guys – own the refineries, not ISIS. ISIS makes money by selling crude oil to these refiners. And the group needs the refined product — say diesel for Humvees, or kerosene for lamps.
The air campaign is meant to dent ISIS finances. But for now, a dozen refineries may be trivial.
“I think it’s really 1 percent of the volume that goes through their hands every day,” says Valerie Marcel of the Chatham House think tank in London. “So the U.S. and the coalition will need to bomb relentlessly for a sustained impact on the revenue generation.”
One argument in favor of the strategy: There’s little downside. Homemade refineries are often in remote areas, far from potential civilian casualties.
By contrast, targeting oil fields controlled by ISIS carries more risk.
“If people got concerned that, ‘Oh, what does that mean? We’re bombing crude-oil-producing wells in the Middle East,' the market itself might be concerned,” says Mark Routt at KBC Technologies in Houston. “Which would raise the price of crude, which would raise the price of gasoline for everyone around the world. So this is very clearly a thought-through strategy to minimize the market impact while still achieving the stated aims of degrading this group.”
By all accounts, degrading ISIS will take more than going after oil assets. The group is known to make money taking hostages for ransom, extorting traders and farmers and selling stolen antiquities.
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani told the U.N. that the solution to the problem of ISIS now must involve the region. He also said resolving the Iran nuclear issue could lead to greater cooperation.
Across the country the solar industry is battling utilities over the financial details of feeding electricity from renewable resources back into the power grid.
A Syrian defector from the self-proclaimed Islamic State says he had happy moments when he first joined the militants. But he began to see brutality and cruelty that was impossible for him to support.