Volunteer time off (VTO)—or time off to do volunteer work—is a relatively new employee benefit that has become particularly popular in recent years. While 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 was offering VTO.
Volunteer time off is an emerging trend that benefits employers, employees, and the communities they serve—while also making good business sense overall.
VTO: voluntary vs volunteer time off
It’s important to note that VTO is short for both volunteer time off and voluntary time off—two very different categories of leave. Understanding the difference between the two is crucial to developing effective and ethical leave policies for your employees!
Voluntary time off
In short, voluntary time off is unpaid time off geared at saving on scheduling costs. It is used by some companies to balance employees’ need for better work-life balance with overstaffing issues.
While voluntary time off may sound decent enough on paper, it isn’t always so in practice. For instance, while the voluntary time off Amazon offers its workers is presented as an option to end a shift early if the workload is low, several associates have claimed that managers harass employees to take VTO when an opportunity arises.
Volunteer time off
On the other hand, volunteer time off is paid time off to do charitable work, and is considered an employee benefit. It is offered as a way of helping employees find more meaning in their work while also giving back to the community. At the same time, it boosts companies’ standing in the arena of social corporate responsibility.
How it works: companies provide employees with paid leave (typically one or two days per year) in order to participate in community events as volunteers. Your company might choose to partner up with select non-profits, or allow employees to choose organizations independently.
Note: for the rest of this article VTO refers to volunteer time off
Benefits of creating a VTO policy
The benefits of having a VTO policy in place include the following:
- Attracting talent. Offering VTO is a cost-effective way to attract community-minded, values-driven employees. Given the realities of the ongoing global worker shortage, this might be considered a superpower. According to a report by Forbes, Gen Z and millennials are more likely to want to work for companies that are actively involved in helping communities grow. In Canada, 52% of Gen Zs volunteered formally (as part of an organization) in 2018, by far the highest rate of formal volunteerism among all age groups.
- Retaining talent. When employees get involved in something outside of their work and engage meaningfully with teammates, coworkers, and even company stakeholders, it raises overall wellbeing and morale in the workplace, in turn increasing productivity. As a result, employees tend to want to keep their jobs. Companies that invest in social responsibility can reduce employee turnover by 50%.
- A positive corporate image. In addition to helping create a better world for future generations, and improving your company culture (neither of which should ever be scoffed at), VTO can also look great on your company’s next corporate social responsibility report. Participating employees are more likely to promote your brand in a positive light. This is important considering that 91% of global consumers expect companies to move beyond just making a profit, and operate more responsibly and conscientiously.
Integrating VTO into your PTO program
Integrating VTO into your overall leave policy is a fantastic way to invest in your company’s future. Giving back not only helps build your brand—it also inspires pride among employees for being associated with a company that has strong values.
Here are a few best practices for implementing volunteer time off:
- Consult your budget. Determine how many paid volunteer days you can afford to offer employees. Since VTO requires separate budgeting from traditional PTO, you’ll want to plan ahead.
- Consider VTO management tools. When it comes to managing VTO requests and tracking employee volunteer hours, the right management software can do wonders to ensure that things run smoothly.
- Promote your employee volunteer program. If you build it, they will come—but only if you actually get the word out. If you want employees to take advantage of your company’s VTO benefit, you’ll need to promote the program via all of your company’s usual communications channels.
- Make your VTO policy accessible. Never forget that communication is king. That’s why you’ll want to write a clear and concise volunteer time off policy and put it somewhere that everyone can access. If you use a staff management system, this would be a great place to store it. This way employees can get all the necessary information they need to get involved.
Once you get to the policy-writing stage, be sure to address the following questions:
- How many days or hours will employees receive annually?
- What is the eligibility criteria?
- Which causes, organizations, projects, and activities qualify for VTO? Consider providing a list of approved organizations and/or community partners.
- Are volunteers paid their usual rate?
- Does unused VTO roll over to the following year?
- When does VTO reset?
- What are the steps for submitting a VTO request form?
Need a little more guidance? Check out this helpful VTO policy template by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.
Companies doing VTO right
Often, it helps to have role models. Here are just a few of the growing body of companies offering their employees paid VTO:
- General Motors Financial gives employees 8 VTO hours per quarter, for a total of 32 paid volunteer hours per year. Even part-time employees get 16 hours, which is far above the standard.
- CenterPoint Energy provides a maximum of 400 hours per year per employee. Have a gander at their impressive policy.
- Thomson Reuters has rolled their VTO and charitable donations policy into one. They currently allow employees logging 20+ hours to do 16 hours of paid volunteer work annually.
- Silicon Valley Clean Energy offers 40 hours of VTO to their employees each year, as outlined in their publicly shared policy.
- Snap (AKA Snapchat) gives their employees 4 hours of VTO per month, for a total of 16 per quarter or 32 per year. Those that use all their quarterly hours are entered into a raffle—the prize being a $1000 donation to a charity of their choice.
Creating and integrating a strong VTO policy into your company’s overall PTO program can provide your business with countless benefits. From attracting fresh talent and reducing turnover, to increasing corporate visibility in the community, VTO is the next big thing—with good reason. Not to mention, it’s what the world needs a lot more of right about now.