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What Is Paid Time Off to Volunteer?

US News & World Report -  Money logo US News & World Report - Money 6/16/2022 Maryalene LaPonsie
A group of helpful volunteers arranging and packing cardboard boxes with free meals and give away to any needy families and local community facing financial difficulty during an outdoor charity food drive. © Getty Images A group of helpful volunteers arranging and packing cardboard boxes with free meals and give away to any needy families and local community facing financial difficulty during an outdoor charity food drive.

Earlier this year, personal finance company SoFi decided it would start paying workers to volunteer. With a remote workforce spread across the country, it was seen as not only a way to make a meaningful impact in local communities but also a chance to build camaraderie among employees.

“It’s a win-win-win,” says Anna Avalos, chief people officer for SoFi. “People want to give back, and they want to be connected.” Meanwhile, communities benefit from the volunteerism, and the company finds it helps with talent attraction and retention.

SoFi is hardly alone in implementing paid time off for volunteerism. A U.S. News survey of 200 large companies in the finance, technology and digital media industries found that 46% of companies surveyed offer paid time off to volunteer.

While 52% do not have any policy, some talent experts say that could change as businesses look for ways to strengthen their corporate culture and enhance the employment experience for their workers.

Most Common in Financial, Tech Jobs

Although nearly half of employers offer paid time off for volunteer work, that number isn’t spread evenly across industries.

The benefit is found most often in the financial services and high tech industries, according to the 2021 United States Perks Study from global consulting firm Willis Towers Watson, which is now known as WTW. In those sectors, 72% of surveyed companies have paid volunteer time off.

“It’s least likely in industries like health care and manufacturing,” says Vincent Antonelli, senior director in the health and benefits practice of WTW. Employers with shift workers seem to be less likely to extend this perk.

The decision to offer paid time off for volunteer work may also depend on a company’s underlying values. “It’s extremely common in really strong companies that honor community and culture,” according to Kathleen Quinn Votaw, CEO of TalenTrust, a Denver-based recruitment agency. She says companies may use volunteer paid time off policies as a way to attract workers who have common beliefs.

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How Volunteer Paid Time Off Works

Companies that offer paid time off for volunteering often provide one or two days a year for their benefit, says Chris Goldsmith, vice president and senior consultant with human resources and benefits consulting firm Segal. He adds that the hours that can be used for volunteerism are generally separate from PTO for other purposes such as vacation or illness.

The SoFi program – called SoFi Gives – provides 16 hours a year of volunteer PTO. “What we’re trying to lean on is team events,” Avalos says. The company may select a local organization such as a food bank or Dress for Success affiliate and arrange a volunteer activity for employees to complete together. With many still working remotely, “it gives people a chance to meet one another,” Avalos says.

Other companies may use different systems in which workers can select their own activity and submit a request for time off to volunteer on their own. This method provides workers more flexibility but may have less impact than what could be achieved with a group of volunteers.

“The team-based approach engages relationships,” Goldsmith says. That makes it a preferred approach for companies that are looking to strengthen employee bonds while also creating visibility in the community.

Benefits for Both Workers, Employers

Paid time off for volunteering benefits employees and employers alike. It provides an enriching employee experience and also positions a company as a business that cares about more than its bottom line.

“It’s a really good way to promote your employment brand,” Quinn Votaw says. As a result, job candidates may look at a business and think, “I want to be part of this,” she explains.

About a third of workers would like their employer to offer volunteer days as a way to improve its community and social responsibility, according to WTW’s 2022 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey. That compares to 49% who would like their employer to provide an allowance for employees to spend on energy efficiency, the top response on the survey.

Beyond team-building and community service, volunteerism may also provide an avenue for workers to recharge through a meaningful activity. “It really touches on ways that (employers) can help their employees’ social well-being,” Antonelli says.

A 2020 study of 70,000 participants in the United Kingdom found that volunteering is associated with improved health and life satisfaction. By encouraging their workers to volunteer, companies may be able to boost the mental health of workers while reaping benefits themselves.

“There is clearly a link between personal happiness and productivity at work,” Goldsmith notes.

At SoFi, their volunteer PTO program is still relatively new, but early indications are that it is filling its purpose. “We’ve found it is very engaging for our workers,” Avalos says. “The utilization has been great.”

Copyright 2022 U.S. News & World Report


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