Volunteer Time Off (VTO): HR’s Guide to Creating a Policy Employees Will Love

Everything to consider when creating a volunteer time off policy

by Elle Mason - August 2, 2022

While many employers have already implemented (or considered it), the recent Juneteenth holiday seemed to create an influx of questions around volunteerism policies such as: Is there a volunteerism policy at an employer where employees receive a certain number of paid days/hours to spend time volunteering at a 501(c) 3, schools, or something similar?

These types of questions and arrangements make sense for a lot of people – especially organizations that are looking to increase awareness on social issues, create a positive impact in their community, or celebrate the diversity of their office through education and/or outreach. But is a VTO policy (or volunteer time off policy) best for you? It’s something many business leaders are considering.

“We don’t have a policy on offering volunteer time offs yet, but it is something we are working towards,” says Brogan Renshaw of Modelers Central “We have recently started adopting a local charity as a company and the experience had positive feedback from our employees. Doing something meaningful outside of the office has boosted the team morale. At the moment, we are conducting surveys within the company and gathering input from everyone. We are gearing towards offering VTO at least once a month for employees to support causes and charities they want.”

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This article will serve as a resource for HR on everything to consider when creating a VTO policy, whether it’s right for your business, and how to implement it easily.

What is VTO?

“Volunteer time off” is a form of paid leave that is specifically designed for employees who are volunteering in the community. This can be volunteerism at an event, or otherwise providing assistance to a nonprofit or charity. These organizations are often community-based. While some employers designate an organization (or a list of several organizations) that they already have a relationship with for approved VTO, other employers leave it to the discretion of the employee to determine where to spend their VTO.

What are the benefits of offering VTO?

To start, a VTO policy can allow employers and employees to positively impact a social cause or in their community while enhancing (or starting) their corporate social responsibility efforts – creating a ripple effect of social change.

“After organizing volunteering events, it is part of our policy to reward the effort of the volunteers,” says Adam Garcia of The Stock Dork. “Program volunteers are unsung heroes that need appreciation and recognition from the management. We hold a formal ceremony to honor their efforts and invite not just our employees but also the locals who volunteered for the events. We believe that putting extra effort into acknowledging deserving individuals creates a chain reaction of good deeds. It encourages other people to join our campaign and execute the same noble acts.”

But offering VTO can also make an employer more attractive to candidates – particularly as Millennial and Gen Z employees tend to seek out more progressive companies that offer added perks. And beyond being attractive to potential candidates, employers might also find that this makes them attractive to potential customers or clients.

It can foster a culture of inclusion and giving by letting employees take time off from their standard work to help the community or work towards a cause they’re passionate about. This can spark benefits from improved productivity to enhanced satisfaction and engagement on the job – while also strengthening the employer-community connection and recognition.

Of course, a business should decide if a VTO policy is the right fit for them. Some companies like Deloitte offer unlimited VTO – but they’re a large company that won’t be easily affected by staff shortages in the ways that a smaller business would.

What should you evaluate before creating a VTO policy?

There are a number of considerations that employers should think through before rolling out a VTO program.

Who is eligible?

Will this benefit be eligible for part-time employees and full-time employees? Will organizational rank and tenure be considered? Are there any performance or other requirements to receive this benefit? E.g. If an employee is on a Performance Improvement Plan, will they be eligible to take this form of leave?

What organizations are eligible?

Can employees select an organization of their choice? E.g. volunteering at their child’s school for the day? Or will the employer present a list of approved organizations? Can employees volunteer for political organizations? It’s worth considering what stipulations there will be, if any, to selecting an organization. After all, if an employee selects an organization that is out of alignment with organizational values or that is particularly inflammatory or a topic of heated debate, that has the potential to create a number of problems.

What types of volunteering are eligible?

Do employees have to volunteer for a specific event, or can assisting with regular, daily organizational tasks be included within the eligibility for VTO? E.g. helping disburse food at a food bank. Can employees volunteer in areas that align with their normal role? E.g. assisting with marketing, accounting, human resources or other organizational functions. Sometimes, if the volunteer work is closely aligned with their role at the organization, this can create a conflict of interest – especially if the employee or organization provides such paid services to clients.

How many days do employees receive?

Is VTO added to their general pool of Paid Time Off or does it go into it’s own “bucket?” Will employees be offered VTO in terms of hours or days? Does it need to be accrued? Can they receive more over time?

“Our company offers two paid days off per year for employees to use for volunteer activities,” says Brian Meiggs of My Millennial Guide. “We also encourage employees to participate in group volunteering events, and we have a budget to cover the costs of these activities. In the past, we have organized group volunteering events at local food banks and homeless shelters.”

What calendar do they follow?

Are their days allocated on a standard calendar year? Does it follow the fiscal year? What is the best way for employees to track their volunteer time?

How do employees request VTO?

Does it follow the standard process for Paid Time Off or does the request require additional information about the organization and how they’ll be volunteering? How far in advance must it be requested? Will there be blackout days? How will coverage be handled if a significant number of employees want to use VTO around a particular holiday? Who is responsible for approval?

“We encourage VTO as we understand how beneficial it is to our employees’ mental health and wellbeing to volunteer for a cause they believe in and help others,” says Zachary Weiner of Finance Hire. “In order to ensure that the workflow isn’t affected, we required scheduled volunteer time off where a manager needs to approve it and urgent employee’s tasks must be completed in advance.”

How GoCo Can Help You Track VTO

Custom Time Off TrackingWith a modern HRIS like GoCo, you can easily set up custom time off policies like VTO, even if it isn’t the “standard” at businesses. All you need to do is customize your PTO policy, indicating that you want Volunteer Time Off to add into their PTO. Easily add managers who will be approving VTO requests onto the policy so they can be notified, select employees eligible for the VTO policy, and even sync approved time off and holiday to your company calendars. Review all of the settings in your new VTO policy and you’re good to go!

Updating Documents “Magically” – In addition to easy time off tracking for VTO within GoCo, you can also easily upload, edit and update the actual written policy document at any given time. Policy changed? No problem. Make edits real time and easily send out updated policies for acknowledgement to your employees. You can also add custom fields to be collected, from drop-downs to rich text fields, and make the VTO policy truly your own.

Ultimately, the decision to implement a VTO policy or not is at the discretion of the business. While it can have a profound impact of the retention and happiness of the employees, the sense of community, purpose, and pride, and the brand recognition of the company, it may not be the best fit for every single business for financial reasons or otherwise. When executed well though, it can be beneficial for employees, businesses and community members alike.

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