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Some employers offer unlimited vacation days to workers. But is it really a perk?
A dubious work perk is seeping into America’s businesses: unlimited vacation time for employees.
The policy offers some less-than-obvious advantages for employers, along with what would seem to be obvious benefits for employees.
But it could be that only the employer benefits are real, and the employee benefits are mostly imaginary.
The practice is gaining ground in places like Silicon Valley, where start-ups spring up like weeds and venture capitalists who have never seen a timecard make little if any distinction between “work” and “nonwork” time for themselves or their employees.
For employers, the benefits of unlimited vacations include not having to use staff time to track and record vacation hours. There’s no need to pay employees for their “accrued” vacation time if they leave; they don’t accrue any. Lastly, in theory at least, it’s a perk that makes a business look employee-friendly.
Among the companies that have already put an unlimited vacation policy in place are Netflix; Best Buy; Zynga, the online game maker; and Rodale, the magazine publisher.
The system could have advantages for employees caught trying to parcel out their precious vacation days, especially if the employer has a “use ’em or lose ’em” policy on vacation days at the end of the year. Did you forget to save days for that Thanksgiving or Christmas trip? No problem. Just take some more.
If you’re guessing that an unlimited vacation-days policy might have a hidden downside, you are right. Some critics have even called it a “no vacation” policy.
In a highly competitive, workaholic atmosphere, and without some guidelines as to what is normal or expected, employees may feel guilty about taking off any time at all. Are they slackers if they take two weeks? Three? Four? What’s appropriate? Will others who take less vacation, or no vacation, be viewed more favorably?
In practice, lower-level managers charged with seeing that their department’s work gets done may be left to juggle the policy. Yes, Joe’s got “unlimited” vacation – as long as it isn’t at the same time as Jill’s, Jane’s, or James’s. And if a manager does grant that six-week sojourn to join an Antarctic expedition or visit long-lost relatives in a remote part of the world, will other employees become jealous or resentful?
Workplace legal experts also point out that an unlimited vacation policy would have to work in concert with other policies on absence such as extended illness, maternity/paternity leave, or military leave, which usually have designated limits.
The United States is the only wealthy country in the world that has set no national policy on vacation days. So unlimited could truly mean anything, from many days off to none.
At least one employer has tried to modify unlimited vacations in a way that will benefit employees. Evernote, a software company in Silicon Valley, pays a $1,000 yearly bonus to employees who take at least one week off. That kind of policy might cut down on the 57 percent of US workers left with unused vacation time at the end of the year, according to a 2011 Harris Interactive survey.
In the 21st century, the workplace is evolving rapidly away from a 19th-century assembly-line model, which required a “shift” of employees on the site working shoulder to shoulder for a set period of time. Employers now offer flexible work schedules and work-at-home options, as well as other perks such as on-site child care or free snacks and beverages to keep workers happier at their desks.
Someday totting up vacation days may seem as archaic to office workers as the sound of clacking typewriters or the sight of a uniformed attendant running the elevator.
But workers may miss doing that vacation math all the same.
By: Kevin Ashton
A Hungarian psychology professor once wrote to famous creators asking them to be interviewed for a book he was writing. One of the most interesting things about his project was how many people said “no.”
Management writer Peter Drucker: “One of the secrets of productivity (in which I believe whereas I do not believe in creativity) is to have a VERY BIG waste paper basket to take care of ALL invitations such as yours–productivity in my experience consists of NOT doing anything that helps the work of other people but to spend all one’s time on the work the Good Lord has fitted one to do, and to do well.”
Secretary to novelist Saul Bellow: “Mr. Bellow informed me that he remains creative in the second half of life, at least in part, because he does not allow himself to be a part of other people’s ‘studies.’”
Photographer Richard Avedon: “Sorry–too little time left.”
Secretary to composer György Ligeti: “He is creative and, because of this, totally overworked. Therefore, the very reason you wish to study his creative process is also the reason why he (unfortunately) does not have time to help you in this study. He would also like to add that he cannot answer your letter personally because he is trying desperately to finish a Violin Concerto which will be premiered in the Fall…”
The professor contacted 275 creative people. A third of them said “no.” Their reason was lack of time. A third said nothing. We can assume their reason for not even saying “no” was also lack of time and possibly lack of a secretary.
Time is the raw material of creation. Wipe away the magic and myth of creating and all that remains is work: the work of becoming expert through study and practice, the work of finding solutions to problems and problems with those solutions, the work of trial and error, the work of thinking and perfecting, the work of creating. Creating consumes. It is all day, every day. It knows neither weekends nor vacations. It is not when we feel like it. It is habit, compulsion, obsession, vocation. The common thread that links creators is how they spend their time. No matter what you read, no matter what they claim, nearly all creators spend nearly all their time on the work of creation. There are few overnight successes and many up-all-night successes.
Saying “no” has more creative power than ideas, insights and talent combined. No guards time, the thread from which we weave our creations. The math of time is simple: you have less than you think and need more than you know. We are not taught to say “no.” We are taught not to say “no.” “No” is rude. “No” is a rebuff, a rebuttal, a minor act of verbal violence. “No” is for drugs and strangers with candy.
Creators do not ask how much time something takes but how much creation it costs. This interview, this letter, this trip to the movies, this dinner with friends, this party, this last day of summer. How much less will I create unless I say “no?” A sketch? A stanza? A paragraph? An experiment? Twenty lines of code? The answer is always the same: “yes” makes less. We do not have enough time as it is. There are groceries to buy, gas tanks to fill, families to love and day jobs to do.
People who create know this. They know the world is all strangers with candy. They know how to say “no” and they know how to suffer the consequences. Charles Dickens, rejecting an invitation from a friend:
“‘It is only half an hour’–’It is only an afternoon’–’It is only an evening,’ people say to me over and over again; but they don’t know that it is impossible to command one’s self sometimes to any stipulated and set disposal of five minutes–or that the mere consciousness of an engagement will sometime worry a whole day… Who ever is devoted to an art must be content to deliver himself wholly up to it, and to find his recompense in it. I am grieved if you suspect me of not wanting to see you, but I can’t help it; I must go in my way whether or no.”
“No” makes us aloof, boring, impolite, unfriendly, selfish, anti-social, uncaring, lonely and an arsenal of other insults. But “no” is the button that keeps us on.
By: Zack O’Malley Greenburg | Forbes
With 70,000 fans awaiting him at the Houston Rodeo, the world’s largest, Toby Keith sits in his tour bus, as relaxed as the denim on his legs. He’s holding court with his usual crew–business partners, not groupies–and he’s mischievously daring me to eat the worm.
Half the size of a golf tee, the caterpillar-like creature floats beneath an inch of mezcal, tequila’s smokier cousin. Keith instructs everyone to raise their red Solo cups–which, unlike mine, are devoid of bug carcasses–and slam their shots in one go. “It might give you visions the first time,” he chuckles as I choke down the insect. “Goes down like protein, comes out like fiber.”
And with that, it’s showtime. After a buxom blonde rides a horse around Reliant Stadium, shooting fireworks from a bedazzled American flag, Keith leaves his rolling sanctuary. He wades through a scrum of screaming fans, pauses for a backstage chat with pal Roger Clemens, then swings up into a beefy silver Ford, which he drives over the mud and up to the stage. The opening song, which he belts over a deafening roar, is choreographed perfectly: “American Ride.”
There’s little about Toby Keith, in fact, that isn’t calibrated for maximum synergy. The mezcal–and the worm–were from the 52-year-old’s own liquor label, Wild Shot. His road trip to the stage is part of a multimillion-dollar endorsement deal with Ford, whose executives had filled his preshow tour bus, and once he’s up there, he makes sure to play “I Love This Bar,” a song after which he’s named his restaurant chain. The teens down in front with the Taylor Swift shirts? Keith owns a piece of her, too. The $1 million or so he’ll earn for the 90-minute concert itself feels almost incidental.
Keith’s commercial chops, overlaying a wide patriotic appeal, have created the most vertically integrated performer in the music business–and a one-man cash machine. FORBES estimates that Keith pulled in $65 million over the last 12 months–more than any musician not named Madonna, Lady Gaga or Bon Jovi, and easily outpacing masters of product extension like Jay-Z ($42 million), Beyoncé ($53 million) and Jennifer Lopez ($45 million).
The long-term figures are even more impressive. Over the past five years, FORBES estimates, Keith has never earned less than $48 million in a year. His cumulative take over that period: $270 million. Over his entire career–Keith has written a No. 1 country hit every year for the past two decades–his total earnings surpass $500 million. “He’s built this little empire, and he did it kind of quietly,” says concert promoter Louis Messina. “Not many people have been able to pull it off as long as he has.”
So why don’t most Americans know much about Keith? Ask him, and he’ll frame it as something of a conspiracy: “Years ago politics branded me as a cat that was an extreme right-wing guy. Media doesn’t want to cover that.” The truth lies in more basic demographics. Country music has only 14% of the national radio audience, with a heavy regional tilt. Keith’s brilliance lies in recognizing that rather than try to appeal to everyone, he should leverage a base that is unusually loyal–a screaming, swaying annuity–and milk it for all it’s worth.
“A big rock station might play a hit 100-plus times per week,” says Keith’s manager, TK Kimbrell, who joined the singer’s team in 1995. “A country station might play it 50 times. But they’ll play it forever.”
TOBY KEITH’S AIRPLANE, a Lear 60, is painted in crimson and cream, the colors of his beloved Oklahoma Sooners, and fitted out with saddle leather. Unfortunately, it’s also in the shop. He’s renting a smaller Lear 45, which barely contains his 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame (he played defensive end in a semipro football league in his 20s). Luckily, it’s just a short hop from Houston to Norman, Okla., where he lives with Tricia, his wife of 29 years, and their teenage son (they also have two grown daughters; the younger one, Krystal, just released her first album on her dad’s label).
Keith’s success stems from the oil derricks around Norman. He’s a native of nearby Moore, the Oklahoma town recently leveled by a tornado–which narrowly missed his house and hit his sister’s (he’ll host a benefit concert for the town in July with Garth Brooks and Willie Nelson, among others). He planned to go to college and study petroleum engineering. But when crude soared past $100 per barrel in the late 1970s, he grabbed the fast money out of high school, earning $50,000 a year climbing rigs. The inevitable bust followed, and Keith scrambled for part-time work as a bricklayer. For extra cash he made $35 a night playing covers at local bars with the Easy Money Band, which he’d formed with four friends. They found more gigs in Texas and started making regular road trips. To cut costs, they slept two to a room in seedy motels.
One by one, his friends dropped out, and Keith made a fateful business decision: He replaced them with musicians who’d play for a salary instead of a share in the take. By 1990 he owned the whole act and was banking $60,000. Getting a record deal was a different story, as rejections piled up, most notably from one flunky who told Keith his songs needed to “go back to the woodshed.” Redemption came in the form of a stewardess, a Keith fan who gave Mercury Records chief Harold Shedd a demo tape on a flight to Nashville.
“It was mainly the quality of what he was writing,” Shedd remembers. “It was unlike anything on the radio at the time, and it was still really good country music.”
Keith’s lyrics have always been jingoistic. The son of a veteran, he neither apologizes nor minces words. After Sept. 11, for example, his hit “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” declared: “We’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American Way.” Such stridency doesn’t play with the NPR set (Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks declared the song “ignorant”), but Shedd correctly recognized the in-your-face appeal of Keith’s swagger (he responded to Maines by displaying a Photoshopped “family picture” of her and Saddam Hussein as a concert backdrop).
Shedd offered Keith a $20,000 record deal, which the singer accepted on the spot. His self-titled debut hit stores in 1993 and quickly went platinum. The album contained four No. 1 hits, all from his previously rejected demo, including “Should Have Been a Cowboy,” which would go on to garner more spins than any other country song in the 1990s. “Last I heard, the guy [who] turned me down was cutting grass for a living,” says Keith.
Releasing his major label debut at age 32, Keith made up for lost time. He scheduled 150 concerts that year from March to December alone, at $5,000 to $10,000 a night. When a second single hit the airwaves in the middle of the tour, venues began offering $20,000 per show, and Keith filled in all his off nights.
Starting in 1993, Keith released a new album every year through 2000, with each selling at least 500,000 copies. In 1994 Shedd launched Polydor Nashville and took Keith with him. But Shedd was eventually succeeded by Luke Lewis, who didn’t share his predecessor’s enthusiasm. “I don’t hear a hit on here,” Keith recalls Lewis saying when he heard the rough cut of his 1999 album, How Do You Like Me Now?
After two more songs were rejected, Keith went on the attack, displaying a shrewdness and willingness to bet on himself that’s remained a constant since the oilfields of Oklahoma. “Why don’t you just drop me?” he said. “You hate my music.” Keith eventually agreed to buy back the rights to the album for $93,000. He promptly flipped it to rival label DreamWorks for $200,000, and How Do You Like Me Now? went on to sell 3.1 million copies.
The saga wasn’t over. When, in 2004, Universal’s Interscope bought out DreamWorks and merged the imprint with Mercury, Keith was reunited with Lewis. “Here’s the deal,” he recalls saying. “I’m not working with this son of a bitch anymore.” When the label’s brass pointed out that Keith still owed two albums, the singer threatened to retire.
In the end Keith decided to stop being a well-paid employee of others and instead go into business for himself. In exchange for giving Universal a half-stake in his next album, plus a greatest hits compilation, Keith would be free to open his own label, Show Dog. Universal would distribute it. “To that I say, ‘Good luck,’” Lewis told Billboard in 2005. “The track record of artists running record labels is not that good.” (Lewis didn’t respond to multiple phone messages left by FORBES.)
Perhaps mindful of those precedents, Keith decided to share staff with another nascent label, Big Machine, run by an up-and-comer named Scott Borchetta. The singer bought a building in Nashville to house both labels. And rather than just operate like a co-op, Keith paid $400,000 for a stake in Big Machine that FORBES estimates remains around 10%.
It was one of the great investments in recent music history. Borchetta went on to sign Rascal Flatts, Tim McGraw and, most notably, Taylor Swift. Now Keith gets paid whenever Swift does. “Toby’s a really smart businessman,” says Borchetta, who knows because “I send him checks.” How big are the checks that Swift generates for him? “I know there’s an extra comma,” smiles Keith, “if you added up all the money I’ve ever made.”
Keith’s evolution from music act to entertainment mogul deepened when casino executive Don Marrandino came to him with a proposal. He wanted to put a Toby Keith-themed bar inside Harrah’s in Las Vegas. They’d call it I Love This Bar and Grill, tacking “and Grill” to the end of one of Keith’s latest hits.
As Marrandino prepared to open the first location, Keith gave the chef a list of his favorites for the menu: hand-cut French fries, hush puppies, corn bread–and, most important, fried bologna sandwiches. But when he arrived to preview the restaurant with a dozen suits, the bologna had been replaced by fancier fare. “My peeps aren’t gonna come in from Texas or Florida or wherever into my bar and grill and look for pecan-crusted catfish,” he said.
Keith understood his market, and the menu was fixed (active military members get a free burger and beer). The restaurant tripled its opening month’s revenue target; by the end of 2005 the eatery was among the top-50-grossing restaurants in the U.S. That same year Keith opened locations in Oklahoma City and Kansas City. Others followed in Phoenix, Minneapolis, Tulsa and 11 more cities.
The ownership structure of I Love This Bar and Grill differs from restaurant to restaurant. For some, like the one in Oklahoma City, 20 minutes from his house, Keith owns a big chunk of both the land and the eatery. For others he strikes licensing agreements with large operators for a flat fee, a cut of revenues or both. (“‘Gross’ just has a lot better ring to it,” says Kimbrell.) FORBES estimates Keith pulls in $12 million a year from his restaurants. The number-one menu item? The fried bologna sandwich.
AS WE TOUCH DOWN IN NORMAN, you can see, literally, that Keith is to this area what Elvis is to Memphis. Above Interstate 35, a 100-foot water tower, which survived the tornado rampage, proclaims: “MOORE, Home of Toby Keith.” And the singer has still bigger fingerprints across the entire region. The success of the label and the restaurant gave Keith the confidence in his business judgment that he’d always had in his lyrics.
So over the past five years he’s embarked on a whirl of entrepreneurship. There’s the horse farm, a Starbucks and an apartment complex. His foundation is backing a $16 million expansion of the local children’s medical center, and he spends most free afternoons working on his swing at the swanky Belmar Golf Club, which he bought in 2002.
When I arrive at the golf clubhouse, the topic quickly turns to something else Keith owns: Wild Shot. He got the idea from his rocker friend Sammy Hagar, who launched Cabo Wabo tequila in the late 1990s and sold 80% of the company to beverage giant Gruppo Campari for $80 million in 2007. He used to warn Keith, the ascendant capitalist, about “competing with me on my tequila.”
But Keith, who grasped the money to be made from his hard-drinking loyalists, saw the potential in expanding into liquor. (Industrially produced spirits can fetch margins of 40% to 50%.) Bourbon was his first instinct, but barrel sourcing made it hard to scale. Tequila was off the table, given his friendship with Hagar, and it seemed every celebrity already had a vodka line or a wine label. Mezcal? That was a drink he could fashion in his own image.
He quickly secured distribution, via the giant Southern Wine & Spirits, and began sampling the flavors of family-run mezcal distilleries, finally landing on something he liked. He’d let them make the booze–Keith’s value-added came through logo and packaging (including that perennial test of potable manhood, the worm in every bottle). He launched Wild Shot in March 2011. By the end of the year it was the number one premium mezcal in the U.S.
The mezcal was the last piece in a pretty tight puzzle. He plans to have 26 restaurants up and running by the end of this year, each serving Wild Shot and each with its own music stage featuring new acts from Keith’s label. “I can put them on that 30-city tour. I don’t have to look for a place to play. It’s cost-effective as crap,” says Keith. “They’re in Toby’s house. They’re drinking Toby’s liquor. That’s Toby’s act. And then we’re moving to the next town.”
Thus, even when Keith unwinds at home, Keith Inc. is on perpetual tour, minting money all the way.
Call it what you may, money can make or break us. It’s certainly broken some of the biggest names on Wall Street.
What is money? What do banks do? What’s the difference between a stock and a bond? Why buy insurance or real estate? And what exactly does a hedge fund do?
Submitted by Charles Hugh Smith from Of Two Minds
The Key to Understanding “Recession” and “Recovery”: The Wealth Pyramid
The top 20% are prospering and spending money; the bottom 80% are not, but thanks to vast wealth disparity, the top slice of households can keep consumer spending aloft. This provides an illusion of “recovery” that masks the insecurity and decline of the bottom 80%.
There is statistical and anecdotal evidence supporting both a “we never left recession” and “the economy is recovering” interpretation. The key to making sense of the conflicting data is to understand that there are Two Americas. Read the rest of The Key to Understanding “Recession” and “Recovery”: The Wealth Pyramid »
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