Volunteer Time Off (VTO): All You Need To Know
For 70% of people, their sense of purpose in life is defined by the work that they do. Employees whose work gives them purpose are more engaged, satisfied, and resilient. They are also more productive and willing to recommend the company to others. Providing your people with volunteer time off (VTO) is a great way to inspire a sense of pride and purpose in your employees.
Let’s look at what VTO is, why you should consider it, and 6 tips to help you get started with creating an effective VTO policy.
What is Volunteer Time Off (VTO)?
Volunteer Time Off, or VTO for short, is a type of benefit where employees get paid time off to do volunteer work. This typically ranges from 8 to 40 hours per year. VTO is a great way for employees to give back to their community without sacrificing a full day’s wages.
VTO is a relatively new employee benefit that has become particularly popular in recent years. In 2009, SHRM reported that only 15% of organizations offered VTO as part of their benefits package. Less than a decade later, nearly 1 in every 4 organizations offered VTO.
Salesforce, for example, gives their employees seven paid VTO days each year as a part of their Citizen Philanthropy program. Patagonia has its own VTO policy in the form of the Environmental Internship Program, where each employee is allowed to take up to two months of paid days off to work for an environmental group of their choice.
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Examples of VTO
The options for volunteering activities are endless. Your employees can start locally, such as helping out at community service projects or food banks, participating in a neighborhood clean-up, or supervising one’s child’s school trip.
Skill-based volunteering or pro-bono services are popular options to spend VTO as well. Your employees can also sign up to volunteer for large nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity, the Red Cross, or the United Nations.
Going off for a volunteer trip for a month or even a week might not be an easy option for some of your employees. If that is the case, online volunteering could be a good alternative.
Paper Airplanes, for example, is a nonprofit organization that provides conflict-affected individuals with online classes in English or programming. Volunteers can sign up to teach English or coding or to be a part of Paper Airplanes’ operational team. Everything is done online, so your employees can volunteer from home!
Voluntary Time Off vs. Volunteer Time Off
Besides Volunteer Time Off, there is another benefit that goes by the acronym VTO, which is Voluntary Time Off. As Voluntary Time Off and Volunteer Time Off seem almost identical, it can be easy to confuse these two. Understanding how these two concepts differ from one another is crucial to building an effective leave policy.
Voluntary Time Off, unlike Volunteer Time Off, has nothing to do with volunteer work. It is a leave category where employees can take unpaid time off while maintaining their full-time employment status.
Companies like online retailer Amazon often utilize Voluntary Time Off policies to reduce labor costs and prevent layoffs or downsizing, particularly when more employees are available to work than needed. This type of time off is common for shift and warehouse workers.
Why you should consider providing VTO
VTO, like most benefits, comes at a financial cost to the company. More paid time off means your organization will have to spend more money. This doesn’t mean that VTO doesn’t benefit your business, financially or otherwise. In reality, providing VTO has numerous advantages for your organization. Let’s take a look.
Increased employee engagement
75% of Millennials expect their employers to contribute to social good, be it donations or volunteering. Giving employees extra paid days off to dedicate to causes and initiatives they feel strongly about is an excellent way to show them that the organization is serious about corporate social responsibility. It also demonstrates that the employer understands and shares the same values as their people. This makes employees more motivated, engaged, and, ultimately, productive.
Better employer branding
In a tight labor market, being able to attract and hire people who look for purpose-driven organizations can make all the difference to your business. One way to do that is by offering VTO, which helps you build a reputation as a socially responsible employer willing to extend resources to give back to the community. In fact, 90% of businesses report that partnering with reputable nonprofit or nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) enhances their brand.
Living through a global pandemic has caused almost two-thirds of US workers to rethink their purpose in life. Many employees no longer just want to make a living but also make a difference while they are working. According to Glassdoor, 51% of workers expect to be able to use work time and resources to support positive social change.
Providing VTO is a way to help the talent within your organization make a positive impact, which, in turn, will increase employee engagement. Engaged and motivated workers are likely to stay at your organization longer. That means you save resources on recruitment and can keep expertise and skills on board. People who are satisfied with their organization’s societal impact are more likely to stay at the organization beyond five years.
More skilled employees
Offering VTO goes beyond branding, recruitment, and retention. Volunteering at a food bank or a national park might seem irrelevant to the regular work of your employees, which can be product marketing, employee relations, or IT support. However, 65% of HR executives consider VTO a valuable part of employee development.
Through volunteer efforts, employees have another avenue to employ their existing skills and develop crucial soft skills such as empathy, resilience, leadership, and public speaking. As more and more tasks are automated and taken over by AI, these skills will prove vital for those who want to become future-proof in their career path.
Improved overall wellbeing
Doing good for others can help your employees feel good about themselves. A United Health Care Study reported that 93% of the respondents who volunteered in the past 12 months said their mood had improved. 79% of volunteers had less stress.
Not only is volunteering beneficial for your employees’ mental wellbeing, it is also good for their physical health. Volunteer work often requires varying degrees of physical activities — from carrying boxes and cleaning to helping build houses. According to a 2014 study, volunteering can help lower high blood pressure risk in older adults by 40%!
6 tips to create an effective VTO policy
There is no one-size-fits-all process when creating a Volunteer Time Off policy. It will depend on the size and scope of your organization, the availability of your budget, the direction of your branding strategy, and even the institutions that you partner with. Here are a few tips that can help ensure that your VTO policy is suitable, effective, and successful.
1. Start small
First of all, you need to gauge if there’s enough interest in a VTO program. There is a possibility that not all or not even the majority of your employees would want something like that. To find out, you can include a question about VTO in one of your employee engagement surveys and see what people think.
If there is interest, you can start on a small scale with a trial, for instance, one day a year, and then evaluate the impact. If your organization operates across multiple locations, you can start offering volunteer hours or days in one of them and see how it goes.
2. Be specific
Describe how your VTO policy works and what it entails. Having a written policy will make managing the VTO at your organization easier.
Here are a few questions to help you decide what you need to include in your policy:
- Who is eligible to participate? To answer this question, think about the requirements your employees need to satisfy in order to qualify for VTO. This can include employment status (full-time or part-time), duration (how long they’ve been working at your organization), and union membership.
- How many hours of VTO do you allow?
- What kind of organizations can employees volunteer for? You can create a list of criteria for acceptable organizations or a short list your employees can choose from.
- How can employees request VTO? Is there a dedicated form?
- How long in advance should VTO be approved, and by whom?
- What kind of record-keeping is needed and by whom?
- What is the auditing procedure to check that VTO was used appropriately and within the allotted time?
3. Align your VTO activities with your organizational goals
The type of activities and institutions your employees choose to volunteer for can reflect on your organization’s overall brand. That is why a VTO policy should be aligned with what your organization wants and is trying to achieve.
Depending on the situation of your organization, you can give free rein to your employees to choose the type of activities they want or limit where your employees can volunteer. For example, if your organization works closely with many nonprofits in your area, it makes more sense to present those institutions as the top volunteering opportunities for your employees. This is how you can help your organization maintain and strengthen the existing relationships with those nonprofits.
If you don’t limit the volunteering choices of your employees, it is still necessary to state a few criteria, as you want to minimize any potential negative backlash as much as possible. Political institutions, for example, can be considered a controversial choice when your employees volunteer in their capacity as a part of your organization.
4. Use formalized time tracking
Tracking the time your employees spend on VTO is an integral part of a VTO policy. Having an established process in place minimizes the chance of abuse. You can set up a time-tracking system for VTO like you do for general paid time off (PTO), vacation time, or sick leave. Be sure to keep the time in a separate bank so it is not mixed up with other leaves.
You should also decide in advance how you are going to allow your employees to take out VTO, whether it is in hours, days, or weeks.
5. Educate your workforce
Explain to your employees:
- what you’re implementing,
- why you’re implementing it,
- and what the goal of this benefit is.
You can hold information sessions where you instruct how they can use their VTO or record a quick video so that your employees can watch it asynchronously. The latter is especially useful if you work for a multinational company with offices spread across the globe and operate in different time zones.
You should also create an official document containing all the information on VTO and make it accessible within your organization.
6. Get seniors to lead by example
Leaders play an essential role in sustaining the culture of an organization. When senior leaders make use of their VTO and share what they did with their employees, it motivates the workforce to use the benefit.
Leaders involved in the community also help build your employer reputation and create a sense of purpose and meaning in their workforce. 68% percent of employees would consider leaving their organization for an employer that takes a stronger stance on cultural and social issues.
Over to you
Volunteer time off is a great way to engage and retain your employees while helping them use their skills and time in a meaningful way. It complements your employee’s benefits and perks package, and you can also use it to attract candidates, particularly those who are looking for work with a purpose.
Beyond the business benefits, VTO also allows your organization to make a positive impact on society. It is also not the only way to do so. Many organizations dedicate a small portion of their profits to charitable causes they support. Donation matching, which is when companies match the donations from their employees, is also a popular option.