The Dirty, Little Secret of Unlimited PTO

Today’s Highlights: Paying employees to get vaccinated. Airline and hotel websites report surging traffic. And why Walmart employees are on food stamps. 


A $16 billion relief fund for live-event businesses starts taking applications April 8: “Applicants are eligible for grants of up to $10 million from the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant fund, which Congress created in the economic relief bill passed in December. Applications will be taken in phases [by the Small Business Administration], starting with a two-week period exclusively for businesses that lost at least 90 percent of their revenue after the pandemic took hold last year. Groups that lobbied for the relief money are desperate for it to start flowing, but also nervous about how long it will last. With an estimated 30,000 or more businesses eligible for the grants, those in the industry fear the available funding will quickly be consumed.”

  • “This grant fund will not be the agency’s last: The $1.9 trillion relief package passed last week included $28 billion for grants through a program, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, that the SBA will also create and manage.”  READ MORE


Airline and hotel websites report surging traffic, even though many international destinations are not yet open to Americans: “Signs that consumers are ready to travel again are growing, with rising searches for airfares and activity on booking sites. Travel companies are providing tools to help make sense of restrictions and spur bookings, but a hazy outlook for international trips suggests domestic destinations will see the strongest demand.”

  • “Market-research firm AirDNA, which tracks business on Airbnb and rival home-rental site Vrbo, said bookings made in the U.S. in February reached their highest monthly level since it began tracking the industry in 2015.”

  • “People are spending more time combing through airline and hotel websites, executives say. Traffic on Spirit Airlines’s website, for example, has roughly doubled since the holidays.”

  • “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends against nonessential travel. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said rising airport passenger numbers are concerning and pleaded with people to wait: ‘Every time that there’s a surge in travel, we have a surge in cases in this country.’” READ MORE


Bolthouse Farms, based in California, is paying workers to get vaccinated: “The maker of juices and dressings is paying $500 to full-time hourly workers who get Covid-19 vaccines and is hosting inoculation events weekly at its main Bakersfield plant to deliver doses. Bolthouse executives meet multiple times a week to review how much of its staff has been vaccinated, how many people have been infected and other virus-related metrics. It is among the businesses large and small nationwide trying to get a majority of staff vaccinated to reduce the risk of on-the-job transmission and eventually, to relax some of the stringent and costly workplace-safety measures that have been in place for nearly a year.”

  • “Weeks before it knew it would be able to offer doses on-site, Bolthouse set up a tent in its plant parking lot and began an employee education program. Workers—including two brothers whose father, also a Bolthouse employee, died after contracting Covid-19—now walk around recruiting people to get vaccinated.” READ MORE

Gene Marks points out the dirty, little secret of unlimited PTO: “According to a 2018 study by the HR platform Namely, employees surveyed working at companies with unlimited vacation plans actually took fewer days off on average compared with those working at companies with more restrictive plans. ‘Depending on how an unlimited PTO policy is put into practice, it often benefits employers more than the employees,’ Rachel Bolsu wrote on the company’s blog. Of course, better communications may bump up those numbers, and we need to make sure our people are aware of the benefits available to them.”

  • “Another advantage for employers is that, depending on how your plan is constructed, you may not have to pay out for any unused vacation time when you offer unlimited PTO like you would for a traditional use-it-or-lose-it plan. Why?”

  • “Because how in the world can you even calculate unused vacation when an employee has ‘unlimited’ days available?” READ MORE

On Saturday, we asked 21 Hats subscribers if they ever feel guilty about making more money than their employees. We got some interesting responses, including this one from Paul Downs, a regular on the 21 Hats Podcast: “Are you kidding? Never. Two reasons: first, I don't make an outlandish amount, and my employees are well paid. Second: When times are hard, I'm the first one to take a pay cut, and in worst cases, lend money back to the company. They don't have that responsibility. So when times are good, and I can take home decent coin, I do it without guilt.”

  • “Paul also notes: ‘I personally don't like my employees speculating as to how much I take home, so I tell them my income.’”

  • See Paul's whole answer and join the conversation.


Here’s how Walmart executive Kathryn McLay explains in a New York Times interview having Walmart employees on food stamps:

Q: “When a company makes $5 billion a year in quarterly profit and you still have employees who are on food stamps, I just wonder how the company is thinking about the distribution of the wealth that’s being created. Does that feel right?”

McLay:” Yeah. And to be clear, too, Walmart has agreed that the federal wage should be raised, and we’ve advocated for that through the Business Roundtable, through government relations, etc. So it’s not that we’re saying that the federal wage shouldn’t be raised.”

Q: “But nothing more on how a company thinks about how to allocate the distribution of the wealth that’s generated by this company. The overall balance — from the investors to the executives to the associates — you are comfortable with where it is?”

McLay: “I think we have been consistently increasing the amount that we pay as a start rate. We also look at all of these other elements that go into making it a great place to work. If you look at what we paid in bonuses last year, if you look at what we’ve done through education, there was a lot that was done to share back with associates. I think it’s really important that they know how valued they are.” READ MORE

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Spot is an audio tool designed for walking meetings: “Spot, led by Chicagoan Greg Caplan, the founder of Remote Year, is a workplace communication tool that's audio only. Users send a Spot link via calendar invite just as you would with Zoom or Microsoft Teams, but instead of sitting down for a video call, users are able to put on their headphones and put their phone in their pocket. Spot records the call, and uses a virtual assistant to take notes. Users can say ‘Spot, fetch’ (or press a button on the screen) and Spot will automatically transcribe the last 40 seconds of the call.”

  • “Spot also has a collaborative notes section where attendees can write out the meeting's agenda and jot down other notes in real time.”

  • “The idea, Caplan said, is to give people the freedom to walk and talk, which in turn can lead to more creativity, more energy, and a more productive meeting.” READ MORE

A New York company lets homebuyers design their new home entirely online—for a guaranteed price: “The Welcome Homes platform allows homebuyers to design houses from scratch on these parcels of land with a base price of $600,000, giving them the ability to customize their structures with everything from outdoor kitchens to state-of-the-art appliances. The company, founded by Alec Hartman and Mitch Wainer in May 2020, has tapped HGTV star Anthony Carrino as vice president of design. His role is to select and evaluate all of the products that go into the new builds, overseeing everything from architecture to design theme, Hartman told Insider.”

  • “Especially because the pandemic increased demand and competition for single-family homes, Hartman said, homebuyers in major urban areas who lack an unlimited budget are left with few options.”

  • “Purchasing an older home can lead to costly renovations or other upkeep, he added, while opting for a spec home (which is move-in ready but entirely designed by the builder) is pricey.”

  • “Welcome Homes has tried to make the process of buying a brand-new, customized home easier — and cheaper. Once a user submits a design request through the website, they are given a guaranteed set price.” READ MORE


Snap has bought Fit Analytics, an ecommerce startup based in Berlin that helps online shoppers find the right-sized apparel and shoes: “Fit Analytics already works with a number of big retailers, including North Face, Asos, Calvin Klein, Patagonia, Puma, and many more — in all, some 18,000 retailers already. In other words, Snap is adding not just a technology team — there are 100 staff at the company, based in Berlin, who will be reporting to Snap VP of Engineering Nima Khajehnouri — but a substantial e-commerce technology business into its portfolio. Fit Analytics has confirmed that it will be continuing to operate its existing business, while also working on helping Snap build out its shopping platform.” READ MORE



Kent Taylor, founder and CEO of the Texas Roadhouse chain, took his own life after suffering from post-Covid symptoms, including severe tinnitus: “Mr. Taylor, who was also the chairman of the company’s board of directors, founded Texas Roadhouse in 1993. He sought to create an ‘affordable, Texas-style’ restaurant but was turned down more than 80 times as he tried to find investors, according to a biography provided by the company. Eventually, he raised $300,000 from three doctors from Elizabethtown, Ky., and sketched out the design for the first Texas Roadhouse on a cocktail napkin for the investors.”

  • “The first Texas Roadhouse opened in Clarksville, Ind., in 1993. Three of the chain’s first five restaurants failed, but it went on to open 611 locations in 49 states, and 28 international locations in 10 countries.”

  • “Until his death, Mr. Taylor had been active in Texas Roadhouse’s day-to-day operations, the company said. He oversaw decisions about the menu, selected the murals for the restaurants and personally picked songs for the jukeboxes.” READ MORE

After Greg Steltenpohl’s first beverage company, Odwalla, suffered a bacterial outbreak, he built another: “With Odwalla’s natural ingredients and catchy branding, sales had climbed to $59 million by 1996. But the company was suddenly short-circuited that year by an E. coli outbreak in its raw apple juice, which killed a toddler and sickened scores of other consumers. Much of the company’s revenue vanished almost overnight. Mr. Steltenpohl, devastated by the harm his product had caused, left the company in 1998. But he regrouped. And after several years of smaller hits and misses, he built another company, Califia Farms, which makes almond milk, cold-brewed coffee and other nondairy products. Califia, with its distinctive carafe-shaped bottles, is now one of the most successful brands in the nearly $20 billion plant-based beverage industry.”

  • “Odwalla was an immediate success, and it scored several public relations coups. When Pope John Paul II visited Monterey in 1987, he was photographed holding a bottle of Odwalla juice. The brand was a favorite of President Bill Clinton. And Steve Jobs often carried a bottle during his Apple presentations.”

  • “‘The E. coli crisis was a very difficult period for my dad, for the company and for him personally,’ Eli Steltenpohl said in an interview. ‘He was really shaken and heartbroken. It was the total antithesis of the company’s vision of bringing health to people.’”

  • “During this period Mr. Steltenpohl consulted one of his mentors, Mr. Jobs, who at the time was staging his famous boardroom coup at Apple to try to turn that company around. ‘Steve encouraged him to think outside the box and to look at the moment as one of an opportunity for innovation and progressive thinking and not as a defeat,’ Eli Steltenpohl said.” READ MORE


Episode 53: I Hope You’re Not Torturing Yourself: Should Stephanie Stuckey sell pecans on Amazon? Should Laura Zander wholesale yarn to discounters? Should Jay Goltz’s businesses be active on Pinterest (assuming Jay knows what Pinterest is)? This week, we cover those issues plus whether the owners are ready for an economic boom and how Laura made the painful decision to fire several employees she inherited when she bought her wholesale yarn business in Texas. “You have to do it,” says Jay. “And it doesn't make you a bad person. It makes you a bad boss if you don't do it.”