Volunteer time off (VTO) is a type of paid time off (PTO). Under VTO, employees engaging with an approved charitable or community organization are paid as normal.
Volunteer time off is considered a working benefit for your employees. You can offer as many volunteer hours as you would like to be taken across the year.
Volunteer Time Off vs. Voluntary Time Off
Volunteer time off and voluntary time off both have the acronym VTO, but they mean very different things for your payroll department. Volunteer time off is paid leave in order for your employees to engage with charities or nonprofit organizations. Voluntary time off, however, is an unpaid leave category and can be used however the employee chooses.
Some businesses use voluntary time off to balance staffing requirements with fast-changing scheduling arrangements. Suppose you schedule 5 employees for a Saturday night shift, but you only need 3 of them.
In this case, you can offer for 2 employees to take voluntary time off. This means you won’t be overstaffed for the evening. This leave does not affect their employment status as it benefits both the employee and employer.
Volunteer Time Off vs. Paid Time Off
Although volunteer time off is a type of paid time off (PTO), it is usually categorized separately from PTO. This means that if any employee receives two weeks of PTO per year, any VTO they are eligible for will be deducted from a separate time bank.
PTO can be used for whatever reason an employee likes—for example, to take a vacation or as sick leave. VTO can only be used for an employee to volunteer with a charitable or community organization. Companies will often request documentary evidence of how the time was spent.
Advantages of Volunteer Time Off
Supporting your employees in taking time off work to support charities or their community will enrich their employee experience. VTO is therefore considered a benefit to many employees and will help you attract talent to your organization. Furthermore, VTO helps establish a community-minded culture within your organization.
Further advantages could include the following:
Improves employee engagement
Improves employee well-being
A 2017 United Healthcare report found that 79% of people say they feel lower stress levels after volunteering. VTO can therefore help improve well-being by removing financial barriers to participation.
Leverages corporate social responsibility (CSR)
Offering your employees VTO is a cost-effective way to contribute to charities without making monetary donations. This can help you improve your CSR, as people will associate your brand with your employees’ good deeds.
Improves employee tenure
Employees who engage in a volunteering program tend to have a 75% longer tenure than those who do not. It’s worth noting that the average cost of hiring an employee is $4,129. The small cost of allowing employees to partake in a volunteering program is negligible in comparison.
Brings learning benefits
When volunteering, an employee will be exposed to skills and knowledge different from those of their day-to-day role. They will bring these back with them to your company, overall making them more productive.
Disadvantages of VTO
While there are clear advantages to offering employees volunteer time off, you also need to consider the drawbacks:
As with any policy, there is a risk your employees might abuse your VTO guidelines. They may do this by claiming VTO but not engaging with a charity, for example. Or volunteers might be compensated in other ways, such as through gifts or other benefits.
To reduce this risk, you should ensure you have a strong VTO policy. It should outline how your employees can take VTO and what evidence they will need to support a VTO application.
When employees see their work colleagues volunteering, they might feel pressure to join them. If an employee has a heavy workload, this might lead to stress or burnout. To prevent this, you should note that your VTO policy is optional. You should also coach your managers on the signs and symptoms of burnout.
Offering VTO can increase employee engagement and tenure, which may lead to an increase in overall productivity. However, when an employee is away volunteering, their immediate productivity will decrease. Their role will still need to be fulfilled that day. This will come at an increased cost to the business.
How To Write a VTO Policy
A clear VTO policy will help employees and managers understand their obligations regarding VTO allowance. Follow the step-by-step guidelines below.
Step 1: Consider what you’re trying to achieve
Are you hoping to improve your employee’s well-being, achieve your CSR goals, or any other metric? You should write your policy with your goal in mind.
Step 2: Talk to your managers and team leaders
Talk to your managers and team leaders about their thoughts on offering VTO. Possible questions to ask them are:
- How much VTO do they feel is appropriate?
- How many team members can they spare at any one time?
- Should employees be offered VTO after reaching a career milestone or as soon as they’re employed?
- How should you track VTO hours?
Offering VTO to your employees will impact your managers’ day-to-day activities, so getting their buy-in is crucial. Your managers will have an inside view of how VTO should be handled, so consider their opinions when writing your policy.
Step 3: Write a thorough policy around these points
Once you’ve considered the technicalities, it’s time to write your policy. You should include the following:
- Who the policy applies to—for example, full-time, part-time, or all employees
- How much VTO you are offering
- Whether employees who are undergoing disciplinary action will be eligible
- What type of organizations employees are allowed to volunteer at
- How you will ensure beforehand that the organization is a genuine charity that aligns with your company’s values
- What kind of documentary evidence an employee needs to qualify for VTO
- Whether employees need to apply for their VTO allocation or if it is an automatic benefit
- What checks will be conducted to ensure that the VTO was carried out appropriately and how this will be recorded
Step 4: Formalize scheduling and track VTO usage
Your policy should indicate how much VTO employees are allowed to take and how employees can apply for it. However, you also need to consider how you will schedule your employees’ VTO to ensure a productive workforce.
Connecteam’s Operations Management app is an easy-to-use program that allows you to simplify staff scheduling and assign paid VTO days with 1 click. You’ll also be able to see how many employees are taking either PTO or VTO at any given time. This will ensure you do not allow too many employees to take VTO/PTO at once and leave yourself short-staffed.
Your policy also needs to outline how you will keep track of VTO hours taken. You could use a simple Excel spreadsheet or the time-tracking software within the Connecteam app.
Volunteer time off is a valuable benefit that allows employees to be more well-rounded people and support their community. It has clear workplace benefits, including increased employee well-being and tenure.
While there are many benefits to offering VTO, you should also consider the drawbacks. Writing a robust VTO policy will help prevent potential disadvantages such as policy abuse. It will also ensure that your employees understand how VTO benefits them and the company.
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