What is VTO (Voluntary and Volunteer Time Off)

What is Voluntary and Volunteer Time Off (VTO)?

Employees care a lot about compensation, but they are motivated by more than just financial security. Surveys consistently show that the workforce also cares about their work-life balance, their flexibility, and their contribution to a bigger purpose. One catch-all tool to address all these goals is VTO, an acronym with two distinct meanings: Voluntary Time Off or Volunteer Time Off.

Beyond its different purposes and implications, the main difference between Voluntary and Volunteer Time Off is that the former implies unpaid time off, while the latter is paid leave that’s dedicated to a socially relevant activity, like helping a community organization. Understanding VTO's meaning and the distinction between these two programs is essential for coming up with effective leave policies that match your company's mission and promoting them successfully to your employees.

What is Voluntary Time Off?

This type of VTO allows employees to take unpaid time off from work without risking their job security or benefits. Companies may offer Voluntary Time Off to manage staffing fluctuations or address periods of low workload and unproductive hours. For example, retail stores might experience a slowdown in activity after the holiday season, prompting them to offer Voluntary Time Off to warehouse employees during those slow weeks. Similarly, a call center might offer this type of leave during times when call volume is expected to be low. Please note that the company does not enforce this time off—it only offers it.

Benefits of Voluntary Time Off

While unpaid, Voluntary Time Off still offers advantages for both employers and employees:

Employers: This type of VTO can help improve job satisfaction because it’s a way to offer flexibility, one of the most sought-after job attributes. An unpaid time off policy will naturally result in some savings. It also allows for adjustments during slow periods without resorting to layoffs.

Employees: Voluntary Time Off enables employees to manage personal commitments or errands without dipping into their vacation or sick leave balances. This flexibility can be a practical employee benefit for those with young children or professionals who want to pursue passion projects during working hours, like giving a weekly lecture at the local university.

Drawbacks of Voluntary Time Off

However, Voluntary Time Off implementation requires careful consideration because of these few implications:

Decreased productivity: Short-term dips in productivity may occur on days with high Voluntary Time Off implementation. A good workload distribution plan and clear communication about deadlines can reduce this risk.

Employee perception: This VTO program could be misread as prioritizing cost-saving over employee well-being, leading to low job satisfaction. To fix this problem, it’s important to explain the program’s goal and to difference it from compulsory time off.

Voluntary Time off Is Not the Same as Being Furloughed

Being furloughed, a practice we hear about every time Congress forces some offices into a shutdown, is compulsory leave. The voluntary time off we're talking about here is a policy that companies offer but that employees access on their own terms.

What is Volunteer Time Off?

Volunteer Time Off, in this context, is a paid leave program that allows employees to dedicate work hours to volunteering for approved charitable or non-profit organizations. Unlike Voluntary Time Off, which attends to personal needs and interests outside of work, the volunteer version invites employees to use their time during regular working hours for charity work for nonprofit organizations and highlights corporate social responsibility.

Benefits of Volunteer Time Off

These are some of these volunteer programs benefits for both employers and employees:

Employer branding: Volunteer Time Off programs showcase a company’s social responsibility and will attract top talent who truly value such initiatives. Employees can witness how their company's values align with theirs.

A time to unwind: Volunteering opportunities can help employees unwind, especially if their white-collar jobs are meeting-intensive or require long hours behind a computer. Helping at a soup kitchen will make them feel the pleasure of working on a trade. Most probably, only full-time employees will experience this contrast, though.

Team-building and increased productivity: Studies suggest that companies with strong Volunteer Time Off programs experience higher productivity and lower employee turnover. Since volunteer time off, such as doing construction work, could require concerted efforts with your everyday colleagues, it’s a popular way to level up a company’s teamwork.

Drawbacks of Volunteer Time Off

Of course, VTO is not all bright and sunny. Here are some drawbacks of Volunteer Time Off:

Logistical challenges: Coordinating VTO requests with workload and deadlines can be tricky, especially in smaller teams or fast-paced environments. Implementing a time off tracking tool can be very useful to come around this because everyone involved will be able to chime in and see when the activity is taking place.

Potential for abuse:  While uncommon, particularly because activities are typically scheduled or sponsored by HR, there’s a risk that employees might misuse VTO by volunteering for personal errands passed off as volunteer work, or volunteering for organizations that don’t align with the company’s values.

Employees could feel pressured:  If the program is not well-communicated or lacks clear guidelines, employees might feel pressured to participate in volunteering, even if they’re not genuinely interested (or have a backache and might prefer to rest rather than lay bricks).

Voluntary Time Off vs. Volunteer Time Off

Here’s a breakdown of their key differences and similarities and real-world examples for clarity.

Key Differences

Pay: Voluntary Time Off is unpaid leave, whereas Volunteer Time Off is paid leave authorized by the company.

Purpose: Voluntary Time Off allows employees to address personal needs during work hours without tapping into vacation days or sick leave. Volunteer Time Off is specifically dedicated to volunteering activities for approved charitable or community organizations.


Employee choice: Both types of VTO offer employees flexibility and control over their time off schedule.

Approval process: Both typically require some form of advance notice and approval from the manager to ensure minimal disruption to workflow. Managers should be able to approve VTO requests quickly. Companies with automatic approval workflows—and that offer employees a way to request it—will have an easier time managing VTO.


Voluntary Time Off: One of your marketing associates is invited to give a lecture at the university where she got her degree. She can utilize Voluntary Time Off to attend the session without resorting to her hard-earned PTO.

Volunteer Time Off: A software engineer you hired is very concerned about environmental causes. Since the company offers Volunteer Time Off, she can use it to lend a hand to a clean-up day on a beach. If the HR team makes the most of the opportunity, they'll invite the whole office to participate, making the effort a team-building activity.

Importance of VTO in Employee Benefits Package

A strong employee benefits package goes beyond just healthcare and retirement savings. VTO, in both its voluntary and volunteer forms, can further increase employee satisfaction and retention, and shape—in a very favorable way—company culture. This is why having VTO as part of the benefits package is beneficial: 

It Can Maximize Employee Satisfaction and Engagement (And It's Inexpensive)

Voluntary Time Off allows employees to manage personal needs without sacrificing vacation or sick leave, meaning they are offered flexibility, which in turn levels up employee satisfaction. It also allows companies to let employees, such as warehouse workers, stay home during slowdowns. Volunteer Time Off takes this a step further. By allowing employees to contribute to meaningful causes during work hours, this volunteer program promotes a sense of purpose and social responsibility. Both options are a cheap addition to a benefits package and could end up costing $0, or even saving money.

It Builds a Positive Company Culture

VTO programs create a culture of trust and collaboration. When employees feel entitled to manage their time and contribute to their communities, it strengthens the organization' sense of belonging and shared values. This positive work environment can result in better teamwork, increased productivity, and lower employee turnover.

Attracting and Retaining Top Talent

A workforce seeks financial security, for sure, but they also want opportunities to find purpose and make a social impact. VTO programs demonstrate a company’s commitment to employee well-being and social responsibility in local communities. This attracts top talent who value such benefits and helps retain satisfied employees who feel valued and supported.

Implementing VTO in the Workplace

Developing a well-defined VTO policy will require these steps:

  1. Define your goals: Determine the program’s objectives, such as driving up employee engagement or cutting costs during a slowdown.
  2. Secure management support: Gain management buy-in so you have high-profile sponsors.
  3. Establish clear guidelines: Outline eligibility criteria and make sure that, once enacted, employees can request their VTO easily.
  4. Communicate: Share the VTO policy with all employees and make sure they understand the program's benefits, rules, and procedures.
  5. Measure, measure, measure: Once VTO is up and running, you should measure the impact of each VTO requested. For that, you need before and after metrics and people analytics. Make sure you’re collecting those—ideally on the same platform that allows employees to request their leave.

VTO: A Significant Benefit for Employees and Employers

VTO programs, whether offering voluntary unpaid leave or paid volunteer time, can be noteworthy additions to a company’s benefits package. Businesses can rely on any of the two to design programs that improve employee well-being, strengthen company culture and attract employees.

To manage and track VTO requests, consider implementing a software solution like TalentHR. TalentHR is a comprehensive all-in-one platform that allows HR professionals to manage people and simplify tasks like time-off management, performance management, hiring, and onboarding. The platform also allows you to run job ads—in which you can include language that proves your prospective employee how they can earn a full day's wages while taking on their own charities.

Register now for free.

To learn more about people, time off, and paid time off management solutions for HR professionals, visit TalentHR.

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