National / International News
On Friday, the house of representatives failed to pass measures that would have granted President Obama a kind of fast-track authority to negotiate the so-called Trans-Pacific Parternship. Claiming victory here: labor unions. More on that. And with the E3 video game conference beginning Tuesday, will this be the year that virtual reality takes prominence in gaming? Plus, a huge swathe of people don’t take all their vacation in this country. To what extent is corporate culture and badly designed vacation policies to blame?
The National Weather Service warned that some places could see as much as 10 inches of rain. Parts of Texas suffered fatal flooding just weeks ago.
About a year and a half ago, the FDA said that partially hydrogenated oils — the source of trans fat — “are not generally recognized as safe.”
Would an outright ban be a big burden for the food industry? Food companies say they’ve already eliminated 86 percent of trans fats voluntarily.
“There’s been huge progress," says Michael Jacobson, executive director of the consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest. “And now the FDA needs to nail the coffin shut,” he says.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest tracks food that still contains trans fats:Follow CSPI's board Trans Fat Wall of Shame on Pinterest.
Jacobson says the FDA would probably ease in a trans fat ban over several years but still allow minor uses, like in cupcake sprinkles.
“It’s almost like this is just the icing on the cake — I think icing might actually have trans fats too — but anyway, it’s just solidifying what the industry has already begun to do,” says Darren Seifer, the food and beverage industry analyst at the NPD Group.
Seifer says he hasn’t heard any complaints from the industry.
I couldn’t get anybody in the food industry to do an interview. But I did get an email from Cargill, which makes partially hydrogenated oils, touting other oils it makes that could work as replacements.
Many Americans get frustrated when they hear about people who work for European companies; those lucky souls with upwards of six weeks paid vacation, not to mention generous family leave and a long slate of national holidays.
But the relatively stingy vacation policies of American companies aren’t the whole story as to why Americans take relatively less vacation time overall. Many Americans fortunate enough to get paid vacation don’t even use up all the days they do have. That can be bad for employees and companies alike.
Take Kristine Donly and Ted Phillips, who have been colleagues at a Washington, D.C., museum for more than two decades. Their long tenure earns them ample vacation time by American standards: five weeks. They have much in common. But how they use their vacation, or don’t, is what sets them apart. Far apart.
Donly says she uses all of her time every year.
“If [managers] want me to perform at my best, then they should be happy I’m taking my vacation time,” she explains.
Phillips, on the other hand, carries over 240 hours of leave every year, the maximum allowed. He takes only the leave he stands to lose. And even then, he often keeps working remotely on days when he’s technically off.
“When I have taken longer vacations, I come back and find that the work load has piled up,” he says.
Both say their bosses support work-life balance. But Phillips believes avoiding vacation is important to his performance. Donly believes the opposite, just as strongly.
Many HR professionals agree with Donly. Workers who take vacation come back refreshed and productive. That’s not just good for employees. It’s also good for company profits. But these days, more and more Americans are moving in Phillips’ direction.
“There’s this culture of the work martyr,” explains Adam Sacks of Oxford Economics. “People feel they are honored for not taking all of their time or, you know, somewhat looked down upon for taking all of their time off.”
Sacks has researched this topic over the years, finding that the average American now leaves five vacation days on the table every year. His clients in the travel industry unsurprisingly take a dim view of this trend.
Apart from workplace culture, America’s dicey health care system plays a role too. Many workers horde their vacation to use as sick days or family leave.
Merely offering vacation days isn’t enough if a company is serious about being supportive of workers taking time off. Managers need to make sure workers can hand off their tasks to colleagues when they go away. And they need to set an example by taking vacations themselves.
Colleagues can help set that example too.
“I would definitely say that Ted should take two weeks off and have a true vacation,” Donly says.
And in fact, Phillips is considering a trip to Spain. But he can’t promise that he’ll completely disconnect from his work email.
“Um, some habits are hard to break,” he says.
Click below to hear John de Graaf, President and Co-Founder of "Take Back Your Time," talk about reclaiming vacation time from the work place.
E3, one of gaming’s biggest events, kicks off Tuesday in Los Angeles. "From Call of Duty: Black Ops 3," which features female soldiers on the frontlines, to "Star Wars: Battlefront," dozens of video games are being unveiled. But one aspect of gaming, virtual reality, has the tech world buzzing.
Virtual reality grew in the gaming world. But where it will meet the masses is in mobile technology. Mark Bolas, director of the Mixed Reality Lab at the Institute for Creative Technologies, says Facebook, Samsung and Google are already in. “They’re all jumping in in a way that’s slightly skewed toward the thing that they’re best at,” he says.
For Samsung, it’s mobile phones. For Facebook, it’s the social experience in a virtual world. Amir Rubin, CEO of Sixense, says this is the year virtual reality engages more developers — especially in the mobile space. “There’s going to be hundreds of millions of these phones that have VR capabilities by the end of 2016,” he says.
The trick is getting VR headsets into consumers’ hands. The Oculus Rift, for example, is going to come bundled with an Xbox controller. Will mobile phones come with headsets? Rubin says for that to happen, there have to be good applications consumers want. Otherwise it’s just a funny-looking device strapped onto your face.