The world of work is rapidly changing, and so too are employee benefits and perks. Wellness and mental health programs have been a welcome addition, particularly as a global pandemic and social injustices have had a profound impact on people.

But despite the fact that 77 percent of workers say company-sponsored volunteer activities are essential to employee well-being, only 26 percent of employers provide volunteer time off (VTO). That means most companies are missing out on a tremendous opportunity.

Benefits of volunteer time off

There are many benefits to volunteering, for your team members and your organization. 

  1. Make a difference in your community. Encouraging team members to give back to their communities, or volunteer elsewhere, can help make the world a better place. This may also improve your company’s reputation as a socially responsible organization.
  2. Meet people. Eighty-five percent of volunteers have developed friendships through volunteering. Strong social relationships have countless benefits for your team members, and can expand your team’s network for internal referrals.
  3. Engage talent. Seventy-one percent of employees who volunteer through work report feeling better about their employers. Further, 64 percent of Millennials won’t work for a company that doesn’t have strong social responsibility commitments, and 75 percent would choose to work for a responsible company—even if it offered less money than another opportunity. Offering volunteer time off can help you engage both candidates and employees.
  4. Learn new skills. Eighty seven percent of people say volunteering has helped them develop professional skills. Further, 92 percent of human resources executives say that contributing to a nonprofit can improve an employee’s leadership skills. 
  5. Reduce stress. Seventy nine percent of volunteers report lower stress levels, which may help them sleep better, get sick less often, and feel better faster when they do get sick.
  6. Improved mental health. Ninety-three percent of volunteers report an improvement in mood. With more organizations focusing on mental health than ever before, volunteer time off can be a worthwhile addition to a well-rounded employee wellness benefits package.
  7. Improved physical health. Seventy-five percent of volunteers report feeling physically healthier. 
  8. Better work-life balance. Sixty nine percent of people are not volunteering as much as they would like. Allowing them to do so during the workday can provide a better work-life balance so they can accomplish more of their goals. For instance, 93 percent of working parents say that more flexible work hours would increase their volunteerism at their children’s schools or organized activities. 
  9. Team building. Seventy-seven percent of employees say volunteer activities strengthens relationships. Volunteering as a team can be a great bonding experience.

Many benefits to the individual lead to better overall well-being, as seen in outcomes such as improved health and happiness. Those, in turn, can often result in team members who are more creative, engaged, and productive.

Challenges with volunteer time off

Despite the many benefits, offering volunteer time off is not without its challenges. For instance:

  1. Time lost. Time your team members spend volunteering while on the clock is time they are not spending on work projects. Be realistic about the amount of time you can offer for VTO, how you will structure your policy, and how the program benefits the individual and the organization. For example, a remote team that works asynchronously will likely be able to implement a more flexible VTO policy than a call center that requires teams to carefully plan for coverage.
  2. Possible fraud. There’s a chance that team members will request volunteer time off, but not spend the time as intended. This might feel like it negates the benefits of offering VTO in the first place. When you’re unsure, give people the benefit of the doubt and consider the collective benefit VTO provides to your team. 
  3. Planning. People Ops teams are already very busy, and adding another benefit to the mix can seem like a daunting task. Between planning out the policy and potentially planning volunteer opportunities, you may find it easier to stick with one big bucket for paid time off. But VTO can be as simple or complex as you’d like it—or need it—to be. For example, you could offer one or two company-wide days of service to everyone who’d like to participate. Or, you could provide VTO that differs by employment status, department, location, and tenure.
  4. Administration. A more complex VTO policy can be more challenging to track and approve. For instance, does VTO accrue and, if so, when does it begin accruing? Does it carry over from year to year, and is there a carryover cap? Do team members need to use all VTO at once, or can they use it in hour-long increments? A People Ops platform with robust time off features can help you overcome these complexities.

If you find that the benefits of volunteer time off outweigh the challenges for your organization, there are certainly ways to overcome the hurdles.

Final thoughts on volunteer time off

As with any HR program, feedback can be invaluable. If you’re just starting out, ask your team members what they’d like to see in your volunteer time off program. Then check in regularly to learn about the benefits of your program, and see how it might be improved. This is especially important among Millennials—89 percent want to provide feedback, ideas, and solutions to improve corporate social responsibility efforts.

Find out if they have specific organizations they’d like to support, or if they’d like suggestions to help them get started. Ask how they’d like to see the VTO program structured. For instance, a full day to volunteer or shorter time commitments? Flexible time off to support their own charities or team service trips? And find out which team members are most passionate about volunteering, and ask them to form a committee and grow the program internally.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” Helen Keller

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