The Loop

Volunteer PTO

Filed under: Benefits

How do you get workers to relax outside the office so they return recharged and refreshed? Research shows that offering more paid time off (PTO) won't do it, because more than half of America's workers don't take even take the vacation days they earn each year.

Increasingly, employers are finding that a solution to this dilemma is to offer Volunteer Time Off (VTO), which is basically paid workdays for workers to volunteer for a non-profit cause. In the ever-growing battle to achieve work/life balance, studies have shown that workers get many of the same revitalizing benefits as a day off at the beach. In fact, since many people use their PTO to take care of family, household, and administrative duties, they don't really feel energized after a vacation day. They may even find being at work less stressful than being at home.

According to a Gallup poll, 53 percent of workers would like a job that enables them greater work/life balance. In recent years, this desire has taken center stage thanks, in part, to Millennials – now the largest demographic in the workforce. Fortunately, VTO plays right into their wheelhouse, offering both a balance from work and the opportunity to participate in beneficial causes within the community. There's an added benefit in that these young adults are developing good habits by participating in community organizations and, when they return to work, they spread their positive vibes and improve exposure for local causes.

Research also has revealed that many of today's workers would be happy to take a pay cut for a job that offers meaningful work that promotes positive social impact. If an organization doesn't offer that type of work, VTO can fill the void. Volunteering offers personal fulfillment, a link to keep them grounded in the local community, connected to a purpose, and a way to give back.

Stress Management
In 2017, UnitedHealthcare conducted a study to discover the psychological benefits of volunteering. Among the study's participants, 79 percent reported that regular volunteer work yielded lower stress levels; 93 percent said they said their moods were uplifted; and 88 percent experienced improved self-esteem. Those are some pretty high numbers and are on par with the benefits of regular exercise.

Recruiting and Retention
As noted earlier, VTO particularly appeals to one key demographic: Millennials. According to a 2018 poll by Fortune magazine, 18- to 34-year-olds prefer to work for an employer with a strong track record for social activism.

Bear in mind that the penchant for volunteering is often accompanied by other desirable traits, such as a strong work ethic, integrity, ability to get along with others, and an aptitude for juggling priorities and time management. This means the competition for this type of talent will grow as Millennials become more experienced, so offering VTO benefits now helps develop a company's long-term track record for social activism. According to the UnitedHealthcare survey, more than 70 percent of workers who volunteer at work feel better about their employer as a result. Even one VTO day a year can have a substantial influence on worker loyalty and demonstrate the company's commitment to the community.

Career Advancement
It's also reassuring for employers to know that volunteering isn't goofing off. Workers learn important skills that can help their growth and development in the workplace, such as leadership and teamwork. Furthermore, when a company organizes a volunteer day in which workers volunteer at one specific location for a unified cause, it allows workers to form connections with colleagues in other departments, which can help promote morale and intra-department unity.

Corporate Values on Display
The Fortune poll found that workers who participate in corporate-encouraged volunteer opportunities are four times more likely to discuss their activities both inside and outside the company. This can help your business in several ways:

• Enhance your brand as a social activist
• Boost recruiting and retention efforts
• Improve sales
• Promote public relations

Implementation Tips
VTO typically allows workers to conduct community service during the regular workday while still earning their usual wages. It is completely separate from both vacation and sick days; it is a tangible benefit above regular PTO.

However, an organization can be innovative in the way it offers VTO. For example, it can permit individuals to select which charitable organization they would like to donate their time to, or partner with local organizations aligned with the company's brand, mission, and values.

While VTO policies will differ, they generally require that a worker receives his supervisor's approval in advance of his service day, and submit a VTO request form to the HR department. Once the request is cleared, the worker checks in for work at the volunteer organization on the designated day and records that time as VTO on the company's payroll platform.

VTO doesn't need to be extensive to achieve the company's goals. It can be as little as one day a year to 40 annual hours divided up any way the worker chooses. The company can establish an organization-wide volunteer day, and even vet local charitable opportunities in which workers can choose where they would like to spend their VTO. Use regular corporate communications to feature VTO options, such as bulletin boards, the company intranet, newsletters, or regular email reminders.

It's also a good idea to appoint a point of contact for community service opportunities, so workers have someone to speak with to learn about local organizations, how to sign up to volunteer, how to complete internal request and payroll paperwork, and ask any other questions about the VTO benefit. The easier you make the process, the more workers will participate, and the more your company will enjoy the goodwill benefits.

Especially in the beginning, you can expect a few challenges. Each company is different and it may take a while to iron out the kinks. Be patient, be proactive, and communicate that since it is a new benefit you are looking to workers to help understand the issues and help resolve them.

One such issue could be the problem of workers spending more time out of the office. It's important to coordinate VTO days to insure coverage in each department. You may even publish an internal VTO calendar so that coworkers can see what days are available and join other workers in volunteering when possible.

You may even experience jealousy among people with more demanding positions that barely have time to take a vacation – let along volunteer. VTO can seem like extra time off, leading to poor morale among those remaining in the office. Be sure to address concerns as they arise and look for opportunities for all staff who want to use the volunteer time to do so.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 62 million people engage in organized volunteer activities. Perhaps that's why in recent years, volunteering has become a popular new benefit. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports that today, approximately 22 percent of US companies offer VTO, and it's a rising trend.

The combination of a competitive labor market and the new attitude toward work/life balance brought forward by today's young adults have significantly impacted the way companies develop benefits packages. Time off is key, between paid time off (PTO), family leave, and even sabbaticals, workers are looking for ways to add balance to their lives. However, VTO offers the additional advantages of fostering improved business performance and a reputation as a socially- responsible organization while helping workers feel they serve a greater purpose.

In other words, VTO guarantees your workers don't use the time off to spend the day at home waiting for a plumber, tending to a sick child, or taking an elderly parent to doctor's appointments. VTO can actually help workers recharge their batteries and return to work with an improved mental attitude.

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