Today’s employees want more than just a paycheck; they want to feel like they’re helping to make the world a better place, and that they’re working for a socially responsible organization aligned with their personal values and goals. One way businesses can help employees pursue their passions and find purpose is through volunteer time off, or VTO.
VTO allows employees to volunteer their time with the charities and causes they believe in without making them choose between collecting a paycheck and having an impact on their community. While a successful VTO policy enables your employees to support the causes they care about, it can also help your business improve retention, boost employee well-being, build workplace connections, and more.
What Is Volunteer Time Off (VTO)?
Since many volunteering activities take place during the workday, it’s often hard for employees to balance giving back and collecting a paycheck. Luckily, volunteer time off gives your employees the flexibility to volunteer during the workday and still get paid. This allows employees to give back to the community — without having to give up a day’s wages.
How much VTO you’re willing to give your employees per calendar year and any rules regarding eligibility are completely up to your business. For example, if you have a primarily remote or hybrid workplace, you might consider giving employees the option to take a half day and volunteer in the morning or evening. When it comes to choosing policy details, you’ll need to decide what works best with your organization’s resources, advises Laura Handrick, owner of HR advisory firm Laura H Consulting, LLC.
“A smaller firm might let employees take one day of VTO a year to volunteer at a food bank, spend a day cleaning up a beach or highway, or teach a class at a domestic violence shelter,” Handrick said. “Larger firms might choose to offer larger blocks of VTO. For example, a construction firm might give employees up to five days of VTO a year to assist with local Habitat for Humanity builds.”
The Top 4 Benefits of VTO for Employees
Volunteering can help employees connect with other individuals, learn new skills, and even feel happier and healthier. Here’s a closer look at these employee-centric benefits of offering volunteer time off.
1. It can boost employee mental health.
Since the pandemic, many employees have experienced mental hardship because of the isolation and loneliness of remote work and job loss and the financial instability caused by an uncertain economic future. While volunteering certainly is not a cure-all for heightened stress levels, it can have a significant positive impact on employee mental health. One UK study on the link between volunteering and well-being found that individuals who volunteered more frequently reported having better mental health, being happier, and being more satisfied with their lives than those who did not volunteer. While individuals saw the most significant mental health benefits when volunteering at least once a month, just volunteering a few times per year was shown to positively impact participants’ feelings of well-being.
2. It can teach employees new skills.
Volunteer work provides a valuable opportunity to learn and hone new skills outside of the office. Your employees can get hands-on experience in a new field, or gain experience that could even help them in their role at your organization.
Of course, most skills can’t be perfected in just 8 or 16 hours of volunteering, but your VTO policy can connect employees with organizations they may want to continue helping outside of company-sponsored VTO hours. If your employees build strong relationships with these organizations and become regular volunteers, they can develop new hard and soft skills that can serve them well today and in the future. For example, a marketer could learn how to build a social media strategy and manage an online community by volunteering to run a dog shelter’s social media accounts. Or, an employee could hone their communication and leadership skills by overseeing a soup kitchen’s volunteer training program.
3. It facilitates a sense of purpose.
Volunteering can be immensely rewarding because it allows individuals to see firsthand how their efforts can change people’s lives for the better. It allows your employees to feel connected to others and benefit from increased feelings of accomplishment, belonging, and confidence.
As more and more businesses embrace remote work, offering VTO can help employees create a sense of connection with their communities, which can help combat the isolation of working from home. That feel-good emotional boost can help employees lead fulfilling lives and ensure that they come to work energized, engaged, and inspired.
The Top 4 Benefits of VTO for Employers
Offering VTO can also be beneficial for businesses. In a 2023 LinkedIn survey on workplace confidence, 82% of US employees agreed they want to work for a company whose culture and values align with their own. Aside from helping to build a socially responsible workplace, a strong VTO policy can also help attract and retain top talent, while allowing your company to build goodwill within your community.
1. It enables your business to give back to the community.
VTO gives employees the opportunity to give back to their communities while contributing to causes they’re passionate about, like stopping domestic violence, climate change, or animal cruelty. This can help improve your business’s reputation and set you apart as an organization that cares about the local community and its inhabitants.
2. It can bring employees together.
While employees are welcome to volunteer solo, your business can also organize local volunteering events to bring individuals in the same city together. These company-organized volunteering days take the onus of finding an opportunity off of your employees, making it easy for them to just state their interest and take advantage of your VTO program. Plus, these events give employees, especially those who work remotely, an opportunity to meet new colleagues in their city and connect with their teammates outside of the workplace.
3. It can improve talent retention.
In its 2022 Talent Retention Study, charitable donation-management platform Benevity found a clear link between an employee’s participation in corporate purpose programs (like volunteering or charitable giving) and how long they stay at a company — especially during their first 2.5 years. In fact, it reports that companies see 52% lower turnover among newer employees who participate in these programs. Because replacing an employee can be a time-consuming process for HR teams and managers, the relatively small investment of offering VTO can greatly benefit your business.
4. It can attract top talent.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) 2023 Employee Benefits Survey, only 28% of employers allow employees to take paid time off (PTO) to volunteer. With only 1 in 4 companies offering the workplace perk, VTO can be a powerful differentiator that helps your company stand out from your competition.
How to Write a Volunteer Time Off Policy
When it comes to writing your own volunteer time off policy, there are a few key components to keep in mind:
- Amount of time: Like with all leave policies, you’ll need to determine how your employees will be awarded their time off. Will you give them a set number of days or volunteer hours per calendar year? Or, will their hours accrue throughout the year?
- Employee eligibility: Will you offer VTO for part-time employees or only full-time employees? In your policy, be sure to clearly state who is eligible to participate in this initiative.
- Policy administration: Lastly, you’ll need to determine how your business will approach time tracking to understand how employees are using your policy. VTO is often built like any other paid time off plan, so it’s as easy to track as vacation, bereavement, and sick leave. Most companies just have employees submit a volunteering time off request ahead of time via the company’s HRIS, intranet, or a Google Form. However your business chooses to administer this system, just be sure to communicate it clearly with employees so they know how to take advantage of your policy and properly record their hours of VTO.
Looking for some help incorporating all this into a VTO policy customized for your business? Here’s a volunteering time off policy template you can use: