VTO Policies: A Modern-Day Spin on Corporate Community Investment

December 4, 2023

In concept and in practice, corporate social responsibility has been trending for years — and for many valid reasons. Beyond the altruistic, social responsibility consequently allows companies to boost their brand in the marketplace and garner loyalty among consumers. And as companies strive to create a positive presence online, in the media and in local communities, a subsequent trend steps up: volunteer time off.

VTO takes CSR to the rank and file. For starters, it allows employees to participate in the greater good without risking job security. Sometimes employees don't even risk losing pay. But whether voluntary time-off policies involve paid or unpaid time off, the purpose prevails. VTO creates new ways for employers and staff to further their support of beloved causes and nonprofit organizations.

Wondering how voluntary time off for voluntary work outside the office might enhance your company and workplace? Here's the scoop on VTO in today's business landscape.

How common are VTO policies?

As the concept of "giving back" remains a priority for many employees, some expect their employers to support others in need, either by financial or volunteer means. To a growing number of workers, this includes allowing them to use company time or other resources to help promote positive change. And they request VTO to do so.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 62 million people volunteered through or for an organization in the year ending September 2015. That was the most recent year for which the BLS released these statistics. In terms of time, the median average was 52 hours per year.

In line with increasing demand, many organizations now include a VTO policy in their benefits package.

What are the benefits of VTO policies?

Potential benefits abound, and by nature, they're mutual. Better yet, creative employers and HR teams can tailor VTO policies and initiatives that align with company goals, desires and resources.

Studies over years have revealed numerous practical returns on investment for corporate responsibility in general. So while acknowledging the advantages to the direct beneficiaries, don't overlook the less-direct yet favorable impact on business.

Corporate investment

In terms of corporate investments, those that benefit others tend to feel good, generate interest and deliver unique ROI.

Because a budget can only be stretched so far, many organizations prioritize saving money. But that doesn't preclude them from investing in their local communities with VTO hours. They understand that not all investments involve cash.

Non-cash investments, such as pro bono services and other forms of volunteerism, can have as much or more value to the beneficiaries as monetary donations would. Often, companies achieve desirable intangible returns in the forms of brand awareness, workplace unity, and reciprocal community and employee support.

Employee engagement and retention

In addition to good corporate citizenship and helping employees help others, sound business reasons exist for providing a VTO program. Among them: employee engagement and retention.

When employees are encouraged to get in on the action, they tend to feel good about themselves and their organizations. And those who volunteer together learn more about one another at levels where they wouldn't necessarily engage in the workplace.

As employees engage and develop more meaningful relationships, both internally and within their communities, employee morale builds. Heightened workplace engagement and employee morale are common threads among successful organizations. Advantages to the companies often include:

  • The ability to attract employees who fit the company culture.
  • Significant reductions in employee turnover.
  • Increased productivity.
  • Better quality of products, services and customer relations.

Remember to promote your employees' good works and your company’s social responsibility. Via local media outlets and company social-media and web pages, laud your collective contributions to the community.

Cultivating new skills, knowledge and professional relationships

Volunteering expertise for a community organization offers various levels and types of interpersonal interaction. People entrenched in sharing their own knowledge and skills with others are likely to be exposed to like-minded professionals doing the same. From consulting and round-table brainstorming to hands-on projects, teaching or presenting, there's plenty of opportunity to gather, collaborate and shine.

That type of environment is often conducive to volunteers acquiring new skills and knowledge that will benefit them in return. This component of professional development is easy to overlook due to its casual, relatively "effortless" nature. But its potential can be great.

And as for cultivating and nurturing professional relationships, nothing says show me, don't tell me like positive outlook, output and outcome. Essentially, it's business networking. But it's way less awkward and way more effective than traditional formal methods.

Embodiment of the company's mission and values

When your employees give of their time and energy as an extension of your organization, they become living representations of your company's mission and values.

Furthermore, savvy observers may appreciate you more if your volunteer time-off policy doesn't require staff to sacrifice sick or vacation time to participate.

That said, don't despair if you cannot afford to provide VTO time off beyond sick leave, vacation time and other leave categories. Speak with your staff about their total-time-off flexibility and how to apply it according to their own needs and desires year-round.

How does paid time off for volunteering work?

In many ways, paid volunteer time-off policies function similarly to regular PTO policies. Often they don’t include massive amounts of time off. In fact, it’s common to allow only one VTO day (or 8 hours to be divided as needed) per employee per year.

The most common policies require employees to request the volunteer time off in writing, in advance, and receive approval from management.

Volunteer paid and unpaid time off policy examples

Sometimes the best way to discern how to tailor your own VTO policy is to gain inspiration from others. Consider these examples of VTO policies that other businesses are using:

  • The Entrepreneurs' Foundation of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation offers this free, simple VTO template. It's a great example of not only how to launch a volunteer time off policy, but how to structure it and communicate it to employees. Specifically, they cover what is and is not eligible for VTO.
  • The University of Arizona lays out its official Paid Time off for Volunteer Services Policy in clear terms within a logically structured web page.
  • Thomson Reuters' employee VTO policy includes something unique. By its Dollars for Doers program, the company matches employees' volunteer hours with a generous monetary donation.
  • While the County of San Mateo's VTO policy is a bit complicated (it includes elements like a fact sheet and reference cards), it is thorough and highlights how specific your policy can be.
  • IHS Markit's VTO policy is another example of thoroughness. It covers everything from the purpose of the program to time allocation, eligibility, recording time off and more.

Tips for creating a VTO policy

If you’re considering volunteering time off in your company, start by determining what goals or causes you want to support. Then:

  • Management and/or employees may recommend specific nonprofits or foundations.
  • Ask staff to work together to select one or more charitable organizations to assist.
  • Vet the proposed organizations to confirm their legitimacy, authenticity and impact.

Determine your volunteer time-off policy guidelines and parameters

Important points to establish include:

  • How much time you can afford to provide.
  • Will VTO be paid leave or unpaid leave? While many small to midsize companies offer one day per year of paid time off for VTO, larger companies may offer even more.
  • Who will be eligible for VTO? For example: only full-time employees on salary? What about temps, interns and part-timers? Will eligibility apply organization-wide, from receptionists and clerks to salespeople, warehouse workers and managers? And for how long must they be in your employ before they become eligible?
  • VTO request and notification practices: How much advance notice must employees give an HR representative? Must they complete any forms in advance of their VTO request? Who will approve VTO requests and notify payroll? For smaller companies, losses in productivity may be challenging to absorb. Consider a first-come-first-served policy (similar to vacation requests) to maintain adequate staffing.
  • When will available VTO reset? For example, each calendar year or by 12-month sequencing? And will unused VTO time carry into a new year?

What about civic time off?

Civic time off is a form of paid time off which allows employees to engage in a variety of civic activities and duties. Jury duty is the only civic activity companies are required by federal law to allow their employees to engage in. The federal government doesn’t require that employers pay employees for this time off. But many states mandate it on the local level, so be sure to check your state’s regulations.

Even where CTO is not legally required, many companies offer it. Therefore, you might consider it within the context of your VTO policy.

Draft and launch your official volunteer time-off policy

Once you've finalized your guidelines, proceed to drafting your official VTO policy.

Before you launch:

  • Consider releasing the unofficial draft internally for employee feedback.
  • Review it for fairness and legal compliance.
  • Modify it if/as needed based on final reviews.
  • Incorporate digital and/or hard copies into your larger time-off plan and employee handbook.

Ready to release your VTO policy? Great!

  • Notify employees about the highlights and how to access all the details.
  • Choose a specific date for future evaluation of how your program is working for your staff, the community and you.
  • Plan to make post-launch adjustments if/as necessary.

Avoid potential drawbacks

Aim to keep qualification criteria as universal as possible; don't assume employees should view employers as their moral compass. You might suggest causes that align with the company's mission, but recognize that true volunteerism is an individual pursuit. You won't enhance job satisfaction among staff members by insisting that they compromise or ignore their own values by supporting an organization they don't respect.

To prevent operational disruption due to decreased productivity, consider opening VTO opportunities during typical unproductive hours. Factor in slow seasonal times and variations in employment status or job duties. For example, leading up to the holidays might not be the ideal time to encourage essential retail warehouse employees to serve soup at a local kitchen. Likewise, it might not be wise to provide only full-time employees for an initiative that part-timers could handle as well.

In other words, don't ignore your own staffing requirements to help fulfill someone else's. Your VTO policies should bring additional benefit to all involved, not create undue stress, burden or risk.

As your teams' VTO hours add up, remember to measure and assess key indicators of success or trouble. These might include levels of employee involvement, how much benefit they provided the causes, and the impact to your business. Is anything putting your business at a disadvantage? And what, if anything, can be done to enhance the program for the coming year?

Business has its challenges. TriNet has solutions. Count on our vast expertise and comprehensive services to streamline and simplify your HR management and administration. Speak with a TriNet representative today to learn more about achieving the transformation you seek.

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