Taking time off in lieu – here’s what you had to say

Last week Joe Saxton caused controversy when he suggested that charity professionals take too much time off in lieu. Here is how you responded

This week on the network nfpSynergy founder and experienced fundraiser, Joe Saxton, wrote that:

“Members of staff in charities, particularly those in senior positions, who aren’t prepared to give their time above their contracted hours […] should question why they are working for a charity.”

The article, which suggested that the amount of TOIL voluntary sector professionals acrue is problematic for the sector, has been controversial. Many of you have commented, emailed and taken part in our poll, and 86% of you voted that hard working professionals, from whatever sector, need a good work-life balance and are entitled to take time off in lieu.

Below are some of your thoughts:

Maureen Nickson, Debra:

I agree with Joe, TOIL is part of the charity sector culture. As senior managers we are paid to get the job done, no matter what it takes. Although it is important to have a good work-life balance, going that extra mile makes a difference and not only gets results but gives you a feel good factor, which motivates both you and your team.

David Sidonio, Richmond Council for Voluntary Service:

I once took over as chief executive where employees’ approach to TOIL was creative, to say the least. Staff would be off for weeks at a time, claiming two, three or more weeks’ worth of ‘TOIL’ as annual leave. It was of course a complete nightmare and I ended the practice pretty swiftly. I have introduced a TOIL policy into the organisations I manage which keeps things under control and recognises occasions when staff may have to work outside of contracted hours. However, for senior managers, claiming hours worked back should not go with the territory of the job. Instead, an element of flexibility should be in place to juggle busy lifestyles.

Laura Conrad, Barnsley Hospice:

I work for a charity because it is a job. It pays my bills, my rent and for a few meals out. I also work for a charity because I like its ethos and its values. I like how so many charities were inspired by the hopes and dreams of the communities they serve and how, for the most part, that community spirit lives on. What I also like about where I work is that it understands the concept of hard work and that, like most relationships, it requires a bit of give and take.You can work in the third sector because you support and hold dear the charity’s mission, vision and values, but not at any cost. I regularly work over my 37.5 hours a week but I don’t regularly claim back the time. I work over because the role demands it and I don’t want to be seen as failing. When I take time owing I try and add it on to a period of leave – I take it in half days or leave an hour earlier here and there. But if I work the morning at home, I am still working, just somewhere else. It’s on my calendar and I am contactable by phone, web-chat and email.

Some salaries in the voluntary sector, particularly outside of the capital and the M25, don’t necessarily reflect the late nights and weekends that many staff are expected to work. We can’t expect only volunteers to man weekend events if we aren’t prepared to do it ourselves. As volunteers they aren’t contractually expected to do so. I can’t be paid for my overtime and so I claim time back when I feel that it has been excessive.”

David Lacey, South Hams CVS:

When I read this it made my heart beat a little faster and I felt some anger rising inside me. I have worked in this sector on and off for the last 15 years and have often heard similar remarks. They seem innocent enough but there is an undercurrent here that needs challenging. When I work for a charity or community group I am working. That is, I exchange my time, energy and skills for money. I know there are many other things we get from our work and I appreciate those but I do need to eat and pay the rent like everyone else, so eventually it does come down to the money. Many posts in this sector are part time. My post is at the moment so I have another two jobs and volunteer in two organisations outside of the workplace, so my time is fairly tied up.

What this means is that my time off is precious. I want to spend time with my wife, daughter and grandchildren and I want to have some energy left over. Trustees and Directors have a duty of care to look after their employees and all of mine do just that. There is no need for me to do extra unpaid work because my role is well designed and well contained. It is not the same as bankers being paid bonuses. Salaries within the sector are fairly low, jobs are often part-time and for short contracts. I am flexible where I can be and of course don’t mind working a few extra hours here and there. I believe to work effectively for our charities we need to be adequately compensated within the means of the charity and it must be OK to go home at the end of the day.

Anthony Watton, Family Action:

In our organisation it is expected that managers work some additional hours as part of their role but will not officially build up TOIL. I am a manager and think this is fair – it is for me to manage what hours I do to meet the demands of my job. I think it is fair to allow front line staff the ability to accrue TOIL, so they can be flexible to the needs of our service users.

Carl Allen:

There is a fierce cacophony for Joe Saxton’s head on a platter as retribution for daring to examine the treatment of non-contractual hours worked by professional charity employees. Such treatment includes toil taken, toil donated and overtime payments. Two points draw my attention. Firstly, this cacophony of comments looks to have an unusual and wider significance as the attention of other parties are drawn to both the subject matter and the sector’s response. There is the matter of public and donor perceptions of how TOIL is treated by the charity sector in a prolonged climate of increased poverty, high unemployment and austerity. Secondly, Joe’s call has unlocked but not opened the door for wider questions about the charity sector: the question of whether TOIL and bonuses substitute for one another and whether bonus payments should be part of the sector culture.

Sheryl Roberts, Longley 4G Community Centre:

As the only paid member of staff in our organisation I frequently work more than my contracted hours and very rarely get the opportunity to take these hours back. If the organisation I work for had to pay me overtime I am sure they would be more willing to listen to some of the difficulties I face. As I am responsible for generating enough income to maintain the organisation and pay my own wages, I am in a catch 22 situation. If there is no one here then we could miss out on vital business which we rely on for sustainability.

Zoe Amar, Lasa:

Joe’s article doesn’t reflect my experience of the TOIL system. At the charity where I work, Lasa, we’re a committed team of staff who are always prepared to go the extra mile. And we’re all willing to put in additional hours where we need to. In my view, the purpose of the TOIL system is not to let staff accrue lots of extra holiday, as Joe implies. Rather, it helps re-dress the balance where staff have put in extra hours. This principle isn’t unique to the TOIL system. Back in the days when I was in the corporate world, if we all worked very late into the night we were allowed to start a little later the next morning. Any sensible employer, whatever sector they are in, will look for ways to help stop their employees from getting burnt out. The TOIL system helps balance the needs of both the employer and the employee.

Joe’s article raises some interesting questions about how charities measure success and productivity of their employees. In my view, efficiency and outputs are key, especially when so many charities are managing rising demand with limited resources. It’s about ‘working smart’, and this doesn’t necessarily equate to being in the office around the clock, which seems to be one of the assumptions that Joe’s piece makes. There are so many hard working, passionate staff in the charity sector. Their commitment makes it a truly inspiring place to work. Let’s not forget that.

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