my employer pressures us to volunteer for its charitable events

A reader writes:

I work at a for-profit company that sponsors a few charitable events each year. These events always bring us at least some clients later on, which is why my company does them (although it’s under the guise of helping the community).

Our executives strongly encourage staff to volunteer. The tasks are separate from our normal job duties. They don’t outright say that it’s required but if we don’t volunteer there are a lot of passive-aggressive comments thrown around about how they only want people working here who are fully committed. Six months later, it will still be mentioned that someone had a conflict and hopefully they won’t have one this time.

Even though the events are infrequent, I don’t want to participate. I don’t want to kill time after my shift waiting for an event to start (I don’t live close to work where I could run home) and I definitely don’t want to give up a Saturday. I already volunteer in my free time for causes that are important to me and frankly, my time off is mine to spend how I choose, even if I decide to sit on the couch watching Netflix.

It’s getting tricky coming up with excuses because we usually know about events at least six months in advance. My frustration is compounded because we do team lunches monthly that are not paid time because they technically aren’t work-related. I’m hourly so I have to make up my time to get my full pay. Everyone seems to love these but me.

How do I continue to decline the volunteer events without damaging my reputation? The situation is made worse by my boss being one of the biggest cheerleaders of the volunteering, the lunches, and sacrificing of personal lives for the sake of the company.

Some companies do have a strong culture around volunteering — which can sound sort of heart-warming from the outside, but in reality often means “we pressure our employees to work for free on causes that we choose, in order to build good PR for the company.” It’s crap.

To be clear, corporate volunteering programs can be done well — but that means the volunteering needs to be truly optional (no “it’s voluntary but you need to do it if you want to move up/avoid pressure-y comments) and can be done during paid work time.

Your company’s set-up isn’t that, obviously.

You’re asking about how to continue declining to participate without damaging your reputation, and the reality is that you might not be able to. If this is a major thing at your company, and it sounds like it is, you might need to decide if you’re willing to take the hit. If you can, I’d try to find out more about what that hit really is. If it’s limited to some passive-aggressive comments, that’s annoying but might be a price you’re willing to pay. On the other hand, if it impacts things like raises, promotions, and what other professional opportunites you’re given, that might be a different calculation. Either way, it’s up to you — you get to decide how to weigh your desire not to be voluntold against whatever the consequences are. But try to get really clear on what those consequences really are so you’re not blindsided by the trade-offs later.

All that said, there’s potentially one path that can sometimes work in a situation like this. Sometimes — not always, but sometimes — you can come up with a reason for why you’re not able to participate in this stuff, and have it accepted. For example, someone who explains that they’d like to participate but unfortunately they have caretaker responsibilities that they always need to be home for will sometimes get off the hook. (Caretaker responsibilities could be child care, caring for a dependent relative or roommate, etc.) The same thing can sometimes — not always — go for school classes or standing medical appointments or so forth. So you might consider whether there’s any regular commitment that could help you out here. (Personally, I would enjoy coming up with your own charity work commitments for those times, and seeing if they tell you to break your own charitable commitments in order to fulfill theirs. But they might.)

Anyway, this is all BS. If they really wanted to commit the company to volunteering, they’d do it for real — meaning they’d count your time there as work time. That would give them the right to take some credit for it. But they’re not; they just want to hijack their staff’s forced volunteering time and pretend it’s somehow theirs.

{ 191 comments… read them below }

  1. pleaset*

    I was thinking something similar to what AAM said. If the downside of not participating is just comments, ignore them. If there are more serious repercussions, you’ve got to make a choice.

    1. Liar Liar Pants Dracarys*

      And if the company is big enough to have HR (and OPs boss is not the head of HR), that could be an avenue if it hits beyond comments.

      I never do work happy hours, volunteer stuff, etc. My job is an exchange of my time/work for their money. If they aren’t paying me for the time spent at the HH or volunteer thing, then they don’t get me. Very few people ever hear that blunt response from me; generally it’s just that I have “a thing” or that I get up too early (which I do) to participate. My company does volunteer stuff with United Way; even if they paid me, I wouldn’t volunteer for them. (Have a friend who worked for them. Nope.)

      OP, stuff comes up. Let them think you’ll be there if it makes your life easier. Then–oh no! A pipe burst! Your AC went out! The cat coughed up a demon! You threw out your back! Flat tire! Nose job! There are all sorts of “things” that happen. Have “a thing.”

      1. Long Time Reader, First Time Poster*

        Yes, since these events are planned well in advance I think the last minute conflict is probably your best bet. The only problem with that is that it can throw your colleagues under the bus if they were counting on you to manage specific tasks that now will no longer be covered. I guess the best way around that is to volunteer for the least impactful task in the first place, so that your presence won’t be terribly missed.

      2. SufjanFan*

        Or, say you have a wedding, which is a pre-planned commitment that is sometimes planned up to two years in advance!

      3. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

        Yeah that might work twice. Certainly not more than three times.

        1. Liar Liar Pants Dracarys*

          It will work as long as OP does it. There’s no legal obligation to do the volunteer work.

          I like [almost all] the people I work with, but most of them know I won’t do off-hours events. I did the platitudes I mentioned above when I first started working here. Now I just say “I have a Thing” or “I’m going to have a Thing” when asked. Lots of others have joined in the Thinging. It’s a veritable ThingClub.

          I’m lucky in that Thinging will not affect my job tenure, as I’m in the compliance department of a large corporation. It sounds like OP may not have the same benefit. In that case, I’d be job hunting while I Thing.

      4. Little Tin Goddess*

        Yes, completely agree with everything. I was able to ignore all those voluntold requests to do work and make contributions to the United Way at my old job. I looked into UW on my own and didnt like them or where they decide the money is going. I do things on my own time and dime.

        And I love the “Have a Thing” response. Always Have a Thing AND even a back up Thing.

    2. wb*

      Things like this really make me start to channel Bartleby the Scrivener: I would prefer not to.
      To be a bit more productive though, OP already volunteers, I’d try to schedule that volunteer work at the same time these employer-not-technically-enforced volunteer events are. “Oh, sorry, I’m volunteering at this thing I’m very passionate about then!” That way when the inevitable pushback for not falling in line like an amenable little peon comes you can Innocently ask why the Sponsored Volunteer Event is more important.
      To all these types of ‘go the extra mile’ and ‘we’re all one big family’ things, i say: F** you, pay me. The corporation is not my family, it pays me for my time. It is welcome to donate that part of my time it has paid me for to another cause. But if it hasn’t paid me, its *my* time.

      1. Anonomoose*

        It’s times like this that make me delighted to be in a unionized bit of the UK job market.

        We once used our organization’s paid weekend event as part of negotiations..basically saying that “Unless pay at least holds level in real terms, we’ll request that our members refuse to attend this event. We know it’s high profile, but if the org can spend lots of money here, they can spend it on salaries too.”

        And, the org had a lot of voluntary evening events, which were really well supported. If they’d been mandatory, though, we’d have kicked off immediately.

    1. mark132*

      +1, I think you hit the proverbial nail on the head. I’ve definitely used my limited acting skills to look excited about something like.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I suspect that’s very true. If you know there are repercussions to failing to participate, then faking enthusiasm seems like an obvious way of trying to grin and bear it.

    3. CmdrShepard4ever*

      OP have you been explicitly told you need to make up time for team lunches? Occasionally we will a “team lunch” (go out, order in, just bring our own) we all eat together. Most of the time they run about an hour to an 1.5hrs, sometimes for bigger occasions even up to 2 hours. I normally get 1 hr for lunch unpaid. But when our “team lunches” run longer than an hour I never make the time up and count it as work time. I never asked my boss or anyone if I could do this, I have just always done it this way, and my boss has never told me I couldn’t do this.

      Unless you have been specifically told you need to make up the extra lunch time, I would suggest just not making up the extra time beyond your normal lunch time.

      If you normally get 30 mins for lunch any team lunch over 30 minutes is work time. If you normally get an hour anything over an hour is work time etc…

      1. animaniactoo*

        Could work if they don’t have to clock out for lunch. If they do have to clock out, that would prevent them from being able to clock back in and therefore be back “on the clock” before the lunch is over.

        1. CupcakeCounter*

          Our hourly employees have to clock out for the team lunches but their supervisor ALWAYS goes in and adjusts their time cards so that only their normal, unpaid lunch is taken out. Same for any volunteering that happens – it is on the clock.

          1. Bookworm1858*

            Same! Hourly employees are supposed to take a 30-minute lunch – if we do a team lunch that is an hour or longer, we make sure that they’re only clocked as 30.

          2. Mel*

            Yes, that has always been my experience as well, even at companies that weren’t great on boundaries in other ways.

          3. Elemeno P.*

            This is how my team does it as well. I’m an hourly employee and it’s much-appreciated.

          4. AnnaBananna*


            When I was managing folks (WA state), I paid them for volunteering and any sort of team event that was ‘optional’ (meaning I didn’t want to go either but it would have made our team look bad if none of us came). As an indivudual contributor (hourly, in CA state), I am paid for both team events and volunteering.

            I think OP just needs to get some clarification from leadership on their expectations and then play the assumption game with them if OP is a clock cruncher. As in ‘I was here late for the ____ event last night. How should we adjust my hours to compensate?’ Just assume first that they’re going to do the right thing and see what happens. If that doesn’t work out, then I would gently approach other staff allies about their enthusiasm, and if you find substatiantal support amongst them, then approach as a group.

            And I *loathe* when leadership use their entire staff roster to generate leads. It’s like, why am I doing your job for you? Go network and leave me in peace.

        2. CmdrShepard4ever*

          That is a good point. At a previous job we had to clock out/in for lunch manually, but as with any system sometimes we would forget, in that situation we could go into the system via computer and request an adjustment like adding a clock in for coming back from lunch. I think we had to get approval from a supervisor and explain what happened, but the punch would then added.

          If you do have to punch out/in for lunch, on team lunch days you could forget to punch back in start doing work right away, and then request an adjustment.

          If neither of the options work you could try malicious compliance, if you can. If you go to lunch somewhere and it is walking distance, or if you can drive your own car after your normal lunch time is up 30/45/60 mins get up and go back to work. If anyone asks why you can say I only get x amount of time for lunch. If you get pressed or suggested to make up the work time later in the day you can say you have a commitment after work and need to leave right at 5pm on the dot.

        3. Jadelyn*

          Most timesheet systems have the capacity for a manager or administrator to go in and make adjustments to someone’s timesheet. When I was hourly, I got a half hour for lunch, but if we did a team lunch that ran long my manager would adjust my punch back to the half hour mark and use what we called “authorized time” to fill in the gap so I didn’t have to work late.

      2. Zephy*

        If OP is hourly and the company uses some kind of punch clock system (digital or analogue) to generate timesheets, they may not be able to have their time card adjusted to reflect a lunch of the length they are permitted to have. Like, sure, they could submit a request to have the punch times on the card changed, but it’s possible that Payroll would deny it since they weren’t actually working for the time difference.

        I would imagine that OP has been “making up time” by staying an additional 30 minutes or however long on the same day as the long lunch when they don’t necessarily have to do it like that – nobody runs payroll daily, after all, and IME as long as you’re at the right number of hours for the pay period, you should be fine. So if lunch goes over by an hour one day, you can make that up by tacking on a few minutes here and there every day for the rest of the week/pay period. Show up five minutes early, shorten your normal lunch by five minutes, stay five minutes late and that’s 15 minutes you’ve just “made up.” It’s not impossible that OP’s company wouldn’t allow them to “make up” time like this if they’re requiring them to “make up” time at all, but it’s worth trying, rather than just hanging out in the office until 7:00 for no reason.

        1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

          It depends on the state’s overtime laws, though. If you’re hourly in, say, Massachusetts and you make up an hour by working 15 extra minutes a day, that’s fine. But if you’re in California, anything over 8 hours is paid at overtime rates, so you would need to stay an extra hour on Team Lunch Day to make up that time, or not be able to make it up at all.

          1. Jadelyn*

            California actually does allow for make-up time without going into OT, but it has to be requested in advance and the make-up time has to be done within the week. (I think it’s the week. Might be the pay period.) Generally folks use it for things like doctor’s appointments, but off the top of my head I can’t think of a reason why it would be impossible to use for something like this.

        2. Amethystmoon*

          The company I work for has always had the policy that if it’s a team lunch, you can report your time as you normally would. It is unreasonable to make hourly people make up time for a lunch they’re being forced to attend longer than they usually would eat lunch for and also spend it with their co-workers. I bet if it was a catered meeting, where they actually were doing work, they probably wouldn’t have to make up the time.

      3. WellRed*

        If you normally get 30 minutes and you are being required to eat at a team lunch, the whole time should be paid, not just the portion that runs over.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          I couldn’t agree with you more.

          Our team lunches are rarely if ever officially required. But I do think it is a “soft skill” that builds good relationships with coworkers and the higher ups. The team lunches are usually to celebrate a persons birthday and the company usually pays so most people enjoy going.

          When the team lunch is a bring your own, I will sometimes spend part of it with the team then halfway through I will have a personal errand to finish (it is usually Netflix related) or reverse start with Netflix then join for the second half. The other benefit of a team lunch is most of the time they run closer to 1.5 hrs so I enjoy the extra 30 minutes of paid lunch.

          On occasion we have had working lunches discuss work matters or review presentations. In those case I will eat my lunch while working, but then still take my usually lunch time. Again I never asked about this and no one has ever told me not to.

      4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I agree that there needs to be some questions asked if she hasn’t been specifically told these are unpaid.

        When we do BBQ’s everyone takes their regular lunch break because it’s shift work for most and therefore they’re on the same schedule. They regularly don’t eat at that point but take the 30 minutes break to do whatever. Then they are all clocked in for what could be 1-1.5hrs of BBQ action.

        New people will often ask me if I don’t get the chance to say “Hey hey don’t clock out, take your regular break and then this is paid time, team-bonding is a work-thing.” The only time it’s unpaid is when it’s after hours and completely optional.

      5. I Am The OP*

        I asked my boss about compensation when the team lunches were initiated and was told that it would not be paid time because it’s “to get to know each other outside of work.” When two new team members were hired I asked again. “Are these still unpaid? I want to make sure I give Lucinda and Margaret the correct information.” Yep, still unpaid. My boss even asked HR and was told that since it’s not a mandatory company event, it’s unpaid. It’s like the volunteer events though – they feel awfully mandatory and there’s an uproar if we aren’t all there.

        We have to punch a time clock, unfortunately.

    4. LGC*

      You’re hedging a bit more than I would have.

      Although, it could be both to a degree – that is, people have convinced themselves to “love” these because that’s The Way Things Are Done Here. And that’s a tricky situation, since you don’t have anyone else that’s obvious to go to for support.

      I’m not sure how secure LW is in their position, but they should feel out if anyone else agrees with them. Is there someone else who also gets hit hard with the peer pressure stick at the office?

    5. MK*

      Maybe, and maybe they do actually like them, or at least don’t mind them, if they are nottoo frequent. I don’t see that it matters all that much.

    6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      They may be.

      The reason I’m fully aware that nobody here is faking it is that they constantly ask me about the plans for the next one and it’s that eager, school child “Pizza party!? Can we pizza party please?!” tone.

      So it could be very much that they’ve cultivated a crew of people who really do love this kind of stuff. Assuming they’re faking it is only a way to make yourself, the non-excited person, feel better about it, which if that helps, I guess that’s okay but it feels so “ick” to do that and not just own that it’s not your cup of tea, others are free to party down.

      1. mark132*

        Or they are better actors than you think they are. I’m not saying you are wrong, but acting can be a very important business skill.

        1. Autumnheart*

          Or TMBL knows their coworkers. We don’t have to go digging around for ways in which someone might be wrong about the people they work with.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*


          Only they are vocal and let us know when they’re not happy. They don’t like a change in procedure or new TP, they let me know and we work with them.

          People have gotten upset when we scheduled these events when they weren’t going to be here, since it’s impossible to always make sure it’s a “all hands” day. Why would they fake that? That’s absurd and overreaching.

      2. Amethystmoon*

        We’re literally having an appreciation pizza party today. I’m faking my enthusiasm because it’s unhealthy food we are essentially being forced, ok. “strongly encouraged” to eat. I wish companies would find ways besides food to reward people.

        1. TootsNY*

          I wish companies would find ways besides food to reward people.

          This made me think about a story I read about “working” dogs–search dogs, etc.
          When they’re checking to see if a dog is suitable, they try to discover what the dog is motivated by.

          For most dogs, it’s food. But for some of them, it’s play, and often a specific type of play (one dog was always motivated by playing fetch).

          And THAT reminds me of the video of the army dog on the train platform getting the zoomies.

        2. pleaset*

          If your job is safe enough, or you can afford to lose it or lose promotions etc, don’t fake it. Stop playing along. People who have the security to push back on these things should push back. It’s a service to others.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            I despise employers who think that because someone works for them that they have perpetual claim on their employees’ non-work time.

            Even when I was on the bottom of the totem pole I never did this kind of stuff. Our agreement is that I work X day to Y day from A o’clock to B o’clock. That’s is our arrangement. If you want more, ask me if I am willing to engage more of my time. If I agree, then you need to pay me.

        3. CmdrShepard4ever*

          I think this is one of those things that is never going to find 100% agreement and that is okay.

          I enjoy team lunches since ours are only done on occasion, like once or twice a month and most of the time the company pays for the food. Call me easy but I like it when the company buys lunch, especially if it is pizza, I love pizza. If the company is buying lunch I would rather they buy something unhealthy (that I don’t usually buy) rather then the company buying something healthy. I have ordered food for bigger groups before and pizza with some sides is the easiest and most economical way to accommodate most food restrictions.

          *Yes I know this sometimes doesn’t work for all restrictions and when that is the case we find something else.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Yeah, I hate when my company does the “we’re doing Healthy Lunch for everyone!” – I don’t like feeling moralized at. Appreciation rabbit food is still rabbit food. Being stuck with salads and quinoa isn’t a reward, for me.

      3. boo bot*

        “Assuming they’re faking it is only a way to make yourself, the non-excited person, feel better about it”

        I actually think it’s pretty useful to remember that what others project outwardly isn’t always what they feel inside – it’s a version of “don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides.”

        It’s not that everyone should assume everyone else secretly agrees with them (which seems potentially counterproductive); more like remembering that your friends’ Instagram feed is the version of their lives they’re choosing to present to the world, and you’re not the only one who has times of chaos, sadness, or cleaning up poop.

        It may be that everyone but the OP is 100% in love with the volunteer days – but it’s more likely that there’s a wide range, from “Love it!!!” to “It gets me out of the house, and it’s nice to do something for charity,” to “I’d rather not, but it feels worthwhile to stay on the boss’ good side” to “These stupid things are the reason I embezzle,” and so on.

        So, while bearing that in mind might make someone feel a little better, I don’t think that’s a bad thing, because it’s also likely to be grounded in reality (I’m always in favor of being grounded in reality. Not always in favor of the reality itself, but what can you do?).

        1. Not So NewReader*

          “These stupid things are the reason I embezzle.”
          “They WILL pay me for my time whether they want to or not.”

          (/snark. do not do this.)

          It does make you think about it though, employers who take too much can end up being taken themselves.

          I do know of people who would tell the boss, “I can’t wait for the holiday lunch (or whatever)!” It was clear to us that this was snark but somehow the bosses bought it as real. The person did it just to make all of us laugh.

    7. Kate R*

      Or they might not be. There are people who genuinely enjoy spending time with their coworkers, and especially if some of the employees are on salary instead of hourly like the OP, they might really like going to lunch with colleagues while not even thinking about the fact that others have to make up that hour. It’s also possible that the company culture is such that people accept that volunteering a few times a year is just part of the job, and OP is the outlier at wanting to get out of it. If they really do hate it, they may follow OP’s lead in coming up with excuses, but without knowing how they feel, I’m not sure this is the level of a “band together” situation.

  2. Jaid*

    Second Allison’s comment to say you already have commitments to other charities, not sponsored by the company. It’d be interesting to see if you could finagle your company to give up cash to the charities YOU support.

    1. Mr. Shark*

      “I’m sorry, but I’m already volunteering for The Human Fund that day. If you’d like to make a donation to the Human Fund, that would be great.”

    2. MCMonkeyBean*

      A lot of companies do have charity matching programs! When I made a donation to Habitat for Humanity earlier this year, I reported it through a portal and then the company made a donation for the same amount. It has a limit per employee, but it’s a limit that is much higher than I donate so I’ve never hit it.

  3. Andeleisha*

    My company organizes (truly optional) volunteer days a few times a year, but they are always during work hours. They even organize busses to get everyone there and provide lunch and happy hour afterwards. (Last time there were event T shirts!) There is a way for a company to do this right!

    1. Normally a Lurker*

      Ours are a lot like that. Only, we’re pretty pressured to have a high % attendance. To be fair, if you can’t go, there are no repercussions, and they make it as easy as possible to go. But yea, they want you there.

      But yea, it’s paid, during the work day, they pay for you to get there, and there is a happy hour after.

      The ones that are on weekends, which also happen a few times a year, are 100% optional and there is zero pressure on. It’s only the work day ones that there is some amount of pressure.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        That is the way to do it, frankly if the company if paying for your time anyways I think pressuring people to volunteer is acceptable.

        I’m curious does anyone know if company paid volunteer is time tax deductible for the company? For example the company pays for each of it’s 10 employees to volunteer for an 8 hr shift. The combined employees salary costs the company a rate of $2,500 (everyone gets paid $31.25 per hour x 8hrs x 10 people) for the day. Would the $2,500 be tax deductible.

        Or would the volunteer time donation have to be calculated at the pay rate that the non-profit would pay people to do those jobs?

        So if the company has not donated the time the non-profit would have paid 10 people $12 an hour for 8 hours. So the real donated benefit to the non-profit is $960 ($12hr x 8hrs x 10 people), instead of $2,500?

        1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

          It’s my understanding that’s how a lot of those checkout charities work, too. “Donate $5 to save homeless pets!,” means PetSmart gets the tax writeoff of $5 x (however many customers donated) as a corporate charitable donation.

          1. LawBee*

            I had it explained to me by an accountant that PetSmart or whomever has already budgeted the donation, and I’m just helping them regain that cost.


        2. Margaret*

          CPA here – there’s no extra deduction, but they get to deduct the salary just as they would no matter the employees were doing. So they’d deduct the $2,500 salary being paid – but not as a donation, just as normal salary expense.

          (While there is some point that, if you have employees doing something that is excessive and personally benefits an owner or otherwise is way out of line of being an “ordinary and necessary” business expenses, the IRS could argue that the salary for the time spent, say, picking up the owner’s kids from school, isn’t actually deductible. But generally speaking, you can direct your employee to do whatever you want them do and still deduct the salary.)

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            Does the “ordinary and necessary” business expenses only apply if the business is a separate entity with a specific purpose. I create a separate llama teapots company, and then I send a junior llama teapot designer to pick up my spouses personal dry cleaning, go pick up babysit my kids. If a person is the CEO could they argue having a junior llama teapot run personal errands frees up the CEO to focus more time on higher level business issues. Would the assessment change if the company hired a personal assistant for the CEO that did the same kind of personal errands/work?

      2. Silence Will Fall*

        We have two mandatory volunteer days each year that are during normal working hours. They usually have two totally different options each day that have a variety of tasks. No set-up is perfect but the committee does a good job of making sure there are options for everyone. (There’s always an indoor opportunity that can be done while seated, for example.) However, if you truly don’t want to participate, there is a skeleton staff on at the office or you can take PTO.

        I’m just a rank and file employee and my impression is that they’re pretty well received. This year they actually had to ask for people to staff the skeleton crew because no one signed up initially. All levels of the organization participate. One year, I was part of a team that painted a U.S. map on a playground along with the CMO and the Executive Director. Management seems to be thoughtful about dividing themselves between the sites and rotating through tasks so that everyone gets a little face time while they’re volunteering. Work provides breakfast and lunch, transportation, and a t-shirt (people pick their own size from the measurement chart that is emailed out along with the sign-up for which volunteer option you want).

      3. sofar*

        My old company was similar. It was “voluntary” and during work hours, but the assumption was that you’d be there. There were a few I really wanted to skip because June in Texas and OUTSIDE and ALLERGIES. Also, there were a few times I had to work in the evening to make up for actual work I needed to get done on volunteer day.

    2. Stephanie*

      My company just has up sign up in a system for things we’re interested in. We get up to two paid days a year. Occasionally, an employee interest group or department will try to coordinate a park cleanup day, but there’s usually not pressure to sign up.

    3. Friday La La La!*

      I’ve worked for two places that do it that way. Lunch and a bus is great!

      The for-profit company reminded staff that they would have to make up the time.

      The non-profit professional association told me that, gee, no! Why would we expect you to make up the time? We asked you to come! That was nice.

    4. Anne of Green Gables*

      My department (within a larger community college) does an optional service project on the last day of work before the winter holiday. Typically about 50% of the staff take a vacation day and they have to use a full 8 hours. The service project is generally over at lunch time and we are released as if we worked a full day. Personally, I like that we do a group service project and would do it even without the early release, but there is absolutely no pressure to participate or repercussions for taking the day off. We do put pressure on people to commit one way or the other, though, because we need to tell the service organization how many volunteers they are getting.

  4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    This may not be a useful resolution or option, but I wonder if there’s any room for OP to negotiate. For example, given that OP already volunteers, would they be willing to credit those volunteer hours to offset the company-sponsored outings? I suspect the answer is no, but if it’s paired with a chagrined, “I’m so sorry I have a standing conflict,” it might squeak through.

    Are there are other employees who are as frustrated as OP? If that’s the case, it may make sense to act as a group and pitch a proposal to improve the service policy/outings. But again, it’s totally possible this will just freeze the complaining group out of other professional advancement and development opportunities.

    All that said, if this is an unmovable mountain, and if the events are for a relatively finite amount of time (e.g., 6-8 hours once every six months), the professional benefits of participating may outweigh the costs. Frankly, when something becomes this quasi-mandatory, I’m always tempted to point out that people should be compensated (which of course defeats the purpose of volunteering, but volunteering is not supposed to be coercive).

    This is not how volunteerism and service area supposed to work. OP, you have my sympathies. :(

    1. pleaset*

      The negotiation idea is a nice option if the reason for the company’s pressure is truly altruism. But it sounds like it isn’t – it’s business development (nothing wrong with that per se, especially if it provides the bonus of helping people). So I don’t think it would be useful – it would just lead to more talk about why the OP isn’t a team player.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        Yeah, the fact that they’re getting business out of this and they’re specific events makes me think it’s more along the lines of a charity golf tournament, or sponsoring a nonprofit’s fundraising gala and staffing the registration tables, or other fundraising activity, and probably not more direct volunteering like sorting donations at the local food pantry or doing cleanup at a local park.

        I volunteered at a charity golf tournament once a long time ago and sold overpriced concessions to rich spectators, and the nonprofit I volunteered on behalf of got to keep all our tips. It was fine, I guess, but it was hard work and I don’t feel like I really did a whole lot of good in the world that day. If that’s the kind of thing OP is expected to do unpaid, I don’t blame her at all for feeling resentful.

        This should totally be re-classified in the minds of OP and the company as business development, and OP should be paid for her time.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          The fact that the company is getting business out of this is an important point. They are quasi-forcing their employees to act as unpaid salespeople. This is despicable.

    2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      “Are there are other employees who are as frustrated as OP?”
      How do you find this out without well, risk?
      I know Alison is all about straight talk, but how would you say to a coworker, “This charity thing is really becoming a burden on me. Having to make up the time for these lunches is one thing, but I’m worried that I’ll be overlooked for promotions/raises if I don’t do all the after work events.”
      This is one of those upside down-Emperor’s New Clothes situations where OP is right and the system is wrong. An outside voice calling shenanigans would be great.

      1. LawBee*

        Honestly, I don’t see anything wrong with your script. There could be some softening language added at the beginning if needed (depending on who OP is talking to, she may be able to be this blunt – if I were talking to my work bestie, I could, but other people would need some “I love charity!” lubricant).

      2. MK*

        To say this to one coworker would probably be fine, but if you repeat it to a bunch of people, yes, you would probably be labeled the one who complains about the charity events. Which is pretty much what the OP wants to avoid, I think.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        “So, Coworker, what’s the scuttlebutt? Do most people end up liking these volunteer gigs or no?”

        Personally, I think it’s a two part question. The gig might be okay but the passive-aggressive behavior to do the gig might negate anything that is rewarding about doing the volunteering. That behavior would kill it for me.

        If there is a threat of being treated different for not volunteering, then people are not really volunteering. They are just avoiding being punished for not going. True volunteerism does not involve threats or veiled threats. If people are being directly or indirectly threatened, then the company does not have a truly volunteer program.

        1. I Am The OP*

          This sums up how I feel nicely. I’m not morally opposed to the events and they are good for the community, but the indirect punishment makes me want to avoid every bit of it. And “MK” above is correct that I don’t want to be seen as the complainer. I’m afraid that it will dig a bigger hole for me if I don’t volunteer.

  5. Venus*

    My workplace does it right: one day a year, paid, to volunteer wherever and however I want (no records are kept, so it is viewed by many people as a personal day, but the concept is a good one).

    The idea of having to volunteer one’s time in order to help the company make more profit (get clients)… I know that this isn’t how the company describes this, as they view it as helping the community, but if they truly felt that way then they should support people who are volunteering in other ways. I would be very grumpy about having to attend these events, but as Alison says it may be that this is a culture thing, and it might be time to think about whether or not this place is the right fit in other ways and then keep an eye out to see if there are other good opportunities elsewhere.

    I would tell them that you have a conflict with your other volunteer work, because that should make them less likely to be assholes about it (they may still make comments, but if you can respond “Hopefully I can make your next event, but if there is a conflict then I have already committed to ” then it should limit their criticisms?)

    1. CmdrShepard4ever*

      I disagree with the way your company does it, it should not be just an extra personal day. I think it is good that the company gives people a paid day off to volunteer, that is how it should be, but the company should keep a basic record of who volunteered where to ensure people actually do volunteer, or select as a company a non-profit that everyone volunteers for. The option is stay at work and get paid for the day, or get paid to go volunteer but you have to actually go volunteer.

      1. NW Mossy*

        My company does it like this. Every employee gets 8 hours per year paid to volunteer, and we have a special time code in our HR system that you use to record it. If you sign up for a company-sponsored event, you do so through an internal portal where they can capture the when/where/what. For individually arranged volunteering, you work it out with your manager.

        As a manager, I’ve never mandated proof of having volunteered to claim the time, but I’ve also never had any reason to suspect anyone of abusing it.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          This seems like a reasonable compromise, my dislike for @venus’s work setup was that people just used it as an extra personal day.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            To be fair dome people might use it as a personal day but still do the volunteer time on another day/days, just not that specific day.

      2. LawBee*

        I would resent having to prove it, or provide documentation of where I volunteered at, or even identify it. Either you trust me to use the day as offered or you don’t.

      3. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        I’ll note that pretty much any place that regularly uses volunteers will be able to work with you to document your volunteer hours. They quite possibly keep those records for themselves, and even if not they probably are used to signing off on hours logs for students volunteering as part of a school assignment and other such situations.

        I volunteer regularly with a non-profit that runs entirely on volunteers, generally running a department for one of their yearly events. None of my departmental volunteers (all adults) have ever asked me to keep an hours log for them, and our org just tracks whether each volunteer met a threshold of x hours worked for the event to qualify for a staff event badge rather than have to pay for one so I don’t track hours closely once I know they’ve met that threshold for the year, but this generally isn’t a big thing to arrange. I certainly remember dealing with hours logs when I was a high school student who needed a certain number of community service hours for school requirements, although that was always with orgs that were used to lots of student volunteers so they were particularly used to that.

        One of our local employers in the area not only provides x days of volunteering from their employees, but also gives a matching monetary donation to the org their employee volunteers at based on the time spent volunteering. I haven’t happened to have anyone in that situation in a department I supervise, but that’s another situation in which it’s certainly reasonable for the org to help document the hours.

        Just please don’t expect the non-profit to have kept the records around for you later. If you need documentation, tell them that when you’re setting up the volunteering in the first place and bring any needed forms with you on the day(s) you’re there.

    2. Shark Whisperer*

      At Old Job, we had a similar system, but there was accountability. The company organized events where you could use your volunteer day. Those were popular because they were usually pretty fun and no extra paper work. If you wanted to volunteer somewhere else, you had to get it approved by your manager.

    3. Aitch Arr*

      We do a half day and require that the employee send their HR BP a selfie of them volunteering. That makes getting ‘proof’ lighthearted and also gives us some PR we can use.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Wow, that…reeeeally rubs me the wrong way. “You can go volunteer…but only if you’re willing to let us take advantage of that to use your photos as corporate PR material” doesn’t strike me as particularly altruistic.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          But isn’t most if not all employee volunteering to some extent for PR purposes? I have seen many companies that post pictures of people volunteering, or even if they don’t post pictures companies that advertise how many hours, or how much money their employees donated to a particular cause. I do think there are companies that truly want to do good by having their employees volunteer, but I’m sure the good PR is also a motivating factor even if only a little bit.

          Only way a company would be altruistic is to make a completely anonymous donation to a particular cause. That could happen, I doubt it does, but it would be impossible to prove.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Not necessarily impossible to prove.
            If a company donates a large sum of money for disaster relief for an area, the people of the area are the ones who can make the donation public if they chose.

            I do know of small companies who make donations on the hush-hush simply because they do not want to be approached by everyone within a radius of 100 miles.

            I do think that too many companies like the “look” of pictures with happy employees doing volunteer work. When companies first started doing this it was novel. Now it is trite. And most people are aware enough to know that sometimes employees were voluntold or otherwise manipulated into . doing the volunteer work. This means the credibility is not there like it was initially.

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              When I said anonymous I meant that even the receiving org does not know who the money is coming from.

              1. fhqwhgads*

                That’s not usually what happens. There’s a name on the check, or credit card. It’s not like the org gets an envelope full of money. It’s just that when the donor submits they indicate they do not want to be acknowledged/want to be noted anonymously. The org would never publicize a donation intended to be anonymous, and most regular staff wouldn’t know who it came from, but someone at the org does know.

          2. Jadelyn*

            To an extent, sure. But it’s a matter of degree between doing good and also enjoying some benefit from it, and doing good purely for the benefit you can wring out of it – and this feels like it tips right over the line from “altruism that also provides a nice little PR boost” to “a PR initiative packaged as feel-good faux-altruism”.

            I’m also reacting to the “give us your volunteer selfies as free marketing stock photos” bit, which I think was what sparked a more negative reaction than I might’ve had otherwise.

        2. RUKiddingMe*

          Yeah. I hate everything about this “proof” issue. The whole thing is coercive and exploitative to begin with and now I have to send proof like some errant child who cant be taken at her word? That’s infantilizing and insulting.

          Moreover I really don’t like OP’s company much. It is getting PR and new business while not paying their employees to work…in their free time.

    4. Amy Farrah Fowler*

      My company does something similar. 1 paid day per year to volunteer. I have no idea what record-keeping there is. I know that some people will send out emails with pictures of what they did. People have done all kinds of things from Habitat for Humanity to volunteering at their child’s school. I don’t think everyone takes advantage of it, but there’s no judgement from anyone who does or doesn’t participate.

  6. LCS*

    I’d explore a third option – claim caretaking or whatever other responsibilities to get out of the after work / weekend responsibilities, but express interest in the cause and see how else you can help prepare for events. For example, do they need someone to write and mail fundraising solicitation letters for event door prizes? Do they need someone to take point on working with the graphic design company for posters, t-shirts etc.? You could volunteer to do this stuff instead of attending the events and still get volunteering “credit” for doing so.

    Depending on your job type and flexibility it’s possible you could do a lot of it while at work during paid hours, but even if you had to do some on your own time at least it’s the sort of thing you can do at home in your pajamas at a time that suits you vs. losing a Saturday to a pre-scheduled event.

    Added bonus: If you’re looking to build a resumé, I think down the line you get more credit for helping organize stuff like this than you do for just putting in time manning a table at an event.

    1. EddieSherbert*


      My work hosts this huge charity event every year (that falls on a Saturday and runs all day) where everyone is pressured to volunteer – we literally have a large whiteboard in the cafe with every staff member’s name on it and a colored dot next to your name for how you’re contributing (donated, participating, volunteering, setup, etc) to the event…. and HR will email you directly (multiple times if you don’t reply with an adequate answer) in the weeks leading up to it if you’re not signed up yet.

      I volunteer to put up brochures at local businesses and spend one or two lunch hours a couple weeks before the event putting up flyers. It counts!

    2. I Am The OP*

      I love this idea! I do have flexibility that I could do these types of tasks during my paid hours (but in my pajamas at home would be a nice compromise). Thank you for the suggestion!

  7. NothingIsLittle*

    I agree with the idea that you could arrange for your own charitable efforts to be during that time, but if it’s really only every few months, it may be worth it to suck it up once or twice a year. Not ideal, but it may end up being worth it to avoid the comments. It’ll really be up to you what you’re willing to take to avoid the events.

  8. BlueWolf*

    My company has lots of volunteering opportunities throughout the year, but no one is monitoring whether you participate or not and they are truly optional. I did volunteer once on a Saturday because it involved going to an animal shelter, and the company even paid for lunch.

  9. mark132*

    Given that the OP is an hourly employee, is it possible a complaint could be made to some regulatory agency that they should be compensated for the time spent volunteering? It appears to approach the point where it is in essence required for their job.

    1. KHB*

      That’s what I thought, too. I don’t want to be the person to be all “is this legal?” but…is this legal? It seems like there’s a very fine line between “You need to work at your job for X extra hours off the clock as a condition for staying employed” (which, as I understand it, is illegal to demand of non-exempt employees) and “You need to work at an unrelated task for X extra hours off the clock as a condition for getting a raise/promotion.” Especially since the company’s holding these events for business-related reasons, not purely altruistic ones.

      1. fposte*

        The team lunch is the likeliest problem to me–it sounds like it’s mandatory for work, whether they talk about work or not.

        The volunteering is a greyer area, because it doesn’t sound like it’s technically mandatory, but it could be a problem too. I’m finding DOL guidance from 2006 that quotes 1999 guidance: “Therefore, we caution that volunteer activities “must be truly voluntary and any coercion or pressure, whether direct or indirect by the [employer] to participate in this program outside of [] duty hours would negate the voluntary nature of the program.” I don’t know if the DOL would get exercised about snide comments, but I suspect that if they ever tried to tie this activity to promotion or retention, the feds would consider that to be crossing a line.

        So depending on the kind of pushback the OP feels comfortable doing, she might consider making this explicit if she gets grief again. “Are you saying our success at the company is dependent on our doing this? Because requiring us to do unpaid hours to succeed would be illegal, and I’d hate for us to get in trouble with the DOL.”

      2. Linzava*

        I don’t believe this is illegal, because they’re using social pressure to punish. My friends worked at a very large retail company, notorious for paying employees minimum wage. They had the same “on your own time for free” volunteer program and also used social pressure and veiled threats. It was pretty gross to turn on the TV and see this company bragging about their charity program on their commercials, especially because these programs didnt cost the company anything more that the time it takes to harass your employees who often worked 2 jobs.

        1. KHB*

          Just because the social pressure is the most visible doesn’t mean that they’re not also imposing more concrete consequences (or that they wouldn’t, if it came to that and if they thought they could get away with it). Because the company executives seem to feel so strongly about it, I’d be really surprised if performance evaluations didn’t account for who showed their “full commitment” by working off the clock.

          I like fposte’s suggestion of getting it out in the open: “Are you saying that these events are required for our continued success at the company?” If they say no, then feel free to opt out – and if your performance review comes back with suspicious low marks for “not being a team player,” say “I’m confused – I thought you said the events weren’t required.”

          One way that abusive employers (and other types of abusers) get away with as much as they do is by leaving their actual expectations up to your imagination. I’ll always remember a job interview where the interviewer seemed to think that he could demand me to cancel any and all after-hours personal commitments at the last minute if something came up at the office, but without actually saying that. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to try to pin him down on that: “Are you saying that a requirement of this job is being on call 24/7?” (The job description had mentioned no such thing.) “What if it’s not just an evening’s entertainment that you’re asking me to cancel, but a trip home to see my family? What if I’m at the airport about to board a trans-Atlantic flight? Are you saying I’d need to cancel my trip and come back to the office?” Not that I was ever going to take the job at that point, but it would have been interesting to see him squirm.

      3. doreen*

        I’m wondering about something that I see as more likely than “You need to work at an unrelated task for X extra hours off the clock as a condition for getting a raise/promotion.”. What if it’s not that you need to volunteer as a condition for getting a promotion, but rather that people who volunteer have an advantage? IOW you can get promoted without volunteering, but if there are two roughly equal candidates for promotion, the one who volunteers gets chosen?

        1. fposte*

          My WAG is the greyer, the more difficult to determine (and to get action taken). However: the guidance I quoted is from a letter to an employer who seemed to have some byzantine points system and people got points for volunteering; however, since they could get points other ways, the DOL said it was okay for them to give volunteering points without paying for the volunteering. What you describe sounds close to a system where they *can’t* get those points without volunteering–they can get some points, but not as many. I suspect that could be a legal issue.

          1. LJay*

            I think it’s likely to be an even grayer area though.

            It seems unlikely to me that they would have an official points system in this case where they assigned teamwork points that could be pointed to as an issue.

            It seems like it would be more of a case where Anna and Betty are both great employees.

            Anna volunteers and Betty doesn’t. So more people know and like Anna because she meets more people outside of her department during volunteering. Or she’s seen as having more leadership potential because she leads a volunteer committee of her peers while Betty hasn’t had a similar chance to show her leadership potential to people she works with. Or people on the hiring committee just vaguely have an idea that Anna is more committed to the company and more visible in the company than Betty is, but don’t even really articulate it or use it as a reason but it just alters their impressions in a way that affect their hiring decisions.

            1. fposte*

              Yes, that’s the kind of situation where you’d definitely need to have a pattern to prove to the DOL that people who didn’t volunteer were regularly disadvantaged in this workplace.

              1. KHB*

                When it comes to “volunteering” to work extra hours at your actual job, the law deals with that gray area by disallowing off-the-clock work altogether – even if the employee swears up and down that they’re doing it voluntarily and the employer swears up and down that it’s truly optional – because (I guess) the law recognizes that there’s such a power imbalance involved that such an arrangement can never be truly voluntary for the employee.

                I guess I don’t see how volunteering at an employer-sponsored “charity event” (which, from what the OP says, is really more of a marketing event) is all that different. It just seems wrong (morally, anyway) that the burden is now on the employee to prove that the work is non-voluntary, rather than the law presuming that it’s non-voluntary in the first place.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      If the OP’s review says that they did not volunteer enough then there could be a legal response. This would indicate that their compensation is being impacted.
      But these things are usually just talked about by managers, noticed, but not written down.

      1. I Am The OP*

        You are correct that it’s not noted on performance reviews. Many of the ratings are subjective and related to soft skills versus quantifiable goals and it would be easy for a manager to give one of us a lower score without tying it to the volunteering specifically.

    3. Barney Stinson*

      My first thought, too. The company should be very careful about what they’re doing here; this is dangerous ground.

  10. Temperance*

    I am a huge proponent of corporate social responsibility, when done well. It makes people happier at work (true!) and big evil companies use their resources to help the community. This is when the company donates the time by allowing volunteering to happen during the workday.

    HOWEVER, this is not that. Being voluntold to do something is not CSR. It’s marketing.

    1. Anne of Green Gables*

      YES! And this isn’t even marketing, or isn’t *just* marketing–OP says they always get clients from these events, so this is actually bringing them business. Which means it is WORK!

  11. Drew*

    I’m wondering if there isn’t a broader question of fit with this company. It sounds like OP is more generally unhappy with the office culture. Maybe that’s a signal that it’s time to start looking for a way out?

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I was at a non-profit that I loved but they required volunteering and I hated it. At our events, we had to interact with the public, answer questions, deal with disgruntled people. I would be sick all week leading up to the event knowing that that I was going to be put on the spot for 8 hours.

      1. DAMitsDevon*

        Maybe I don’t know enough legally, but I would think if your company was requiring you to go to those events, they should have paid you? Normally, I thought nonprofit employees aren’t allowed to do unpaid volunteer activities for their company that fall under their job description since if it’s part of the job, you’d need to get paid. For instance, I started out volunteering at a domestic violence shelter, and got trained to do triage at police stations, but had to stop doing that and only volunteer for tabling events, because I ended up getting a job at the shelter that included doing those police station triages over the phone.

        1. DAMitsDevon*

          Also, I wasn’t pressured to do any volunteering for the shelter once I got the job, they were more interested in me doing the work they were paying for.

          1. AndersonDarling*

            Eventually the non-profit started paying people to go to the events because they made it official Everyone had to work 8 hours volunteer time a year and it was documented and recorded in your review.
            They had so many events and people just didn’t want to do them, and they stopped caring about the stigma. So they made it an official requirement, paid people, reimbursed mileage, and had formal sign-up sheets available months in advance.
            I still didn’t like having to face the public, but it was a little bit better knowing I would be paid.

    2. y*

      Yep. This reminds me of my friend’s job as a real estate assistant. It was important to look like the company was active in the community, so there were a lot of volunteer events. They also met once a month to build team morale and do training. It was mostly a bunch of extroverts (real estate), so I think it mostly worked out. My friend would occasionally get bonuses and random days of time off. I’m not sure if it was ever actually tracked – which is a really dangerous way to operate, imho. It sounds like your company may be similar.

      Perhaps make a subtle first push rather than Alison’s advice of a standing appointment. Try opting out of the next team lunch and just say that you aren’t able to go because you can’t stay late to make up the hour because of an important appointment. See what kind of reaction you get. It may be that these people didn’t realize that you were staying late to get that extra hour. It may be that everyone else is considering that work time (WHICH IT IS!) and leaving at the same time.

      See what kind of reaction you get to missing one lunch and work from there.

  12. Sloan Kittering*

    There are a few things at work that I just suck it up and figure it’s the cost of doing business, even though they’re annoying / inappropriate / wtv. To me it sounds like picking ONE of the two events (since they’re six months apart, we’re talking one day a year here right?) and doing a reasonable job showing up for it, and then getting out of the other one is the best choice here. Make sure you do some thing conspicuous when you do volunteer.

  13. animaniactoo*

    Hmmmm. What approaching with the idea of volunteer burnout? Meaning that you raise the point that you do significant volunteering work in your own free time and are already being careful to try not to burn yourself out on it so that you can remain committed and helpful to the orgs that you support. So while you would, of course, be willing to do what you can during work hours, you need not to donate any more of your personal time to maintain that balance?

    And any pushes for you to pull back on those efforts in order to do the company’s effort can be met with “This is an ongoing commitment and I really don’t want to leave them shorthanded. You’ve seen yourself how hard it can be to get and keep volunteers so if I pull back there, it’s not something that can easily be replaced. That’s why I try to be so careful about trying to prevent burning myself out.”

  14. LawBee*

    I totally get not wanting to give up free time for this. I really really do! Our firm does a big push for a charity that is great and local to the main office, and boy do I resent the plugs for it here, in my office seven states away.

    Having said that, it sounds like these are only 2-3 times a year, and there is a professional benefit to attending. I think that if this is a company where you want to advance, you’re going to have to put in the “soft time” at least once or twice a year. It’s standing out that you don’t, and while that may not have a direct impact on raises/promotions in that no one is going to say “OP doesn’t volunteer at our events, so cut her raise by 1%”, don’t think it won’t have SOME impact. The employee who appears to be more engaged with something that the company has determined is an important activity is building up some political capital and goodwill that the employee who refuses every time isn’t.

    That may be fine! It’s your call, but be aware what you’re trading off.

    1. fposte*

      Which is frustrating as hell, because it would be illegal for them to do that to a non-exempt employee. As long as they don’t outright admit it–or it’s not a big enough of a pattern to get the DOL interested–they’ll get away with it, but it’s sleazy to do it.

      1. LawBee*


        Even granting this company the benefit of every conceivable doubt, I can’t see how it would be possible for them NOT to take at least a subconscious note of who is an “enthusiastic” volunteer and who isn’t, attributing some false parallel to their commitment to their job and the company, and then moving forward with that.

        Like someone else said, all those “our employees donate 23452 hours a year!” ads really make me wonder how much of that is volunteering and how much of it is voluntolding.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah. It makes me think a little bit of how you could pay a substitute to fight for you in the Civil War, except without the getting paid part.

  15. Phony Genius*

    I googled the phrase “our employees give” (in quotation marks). The results yielded many examples of what Alison is talking about regarding employers whose culture it is to have their employees volunteer their time and/or money. One particular company bragged about how much money their employees donate to a particular charity. No mention of the corporation donating its own money.

    1. SezU*

      My employer pushes really hard a couple times a year for the employees to give, give, give. I did it one year and when I realized it took SIX MONTHS for my donation to actually get to the charity, I decided to just go back to giving to the charity of my choice on my own timeline.

  16. Anonymousaurus Rex*

    One of my favorite benefits working at my company is “Volunteer Time Off”. We get 16 hours a year to use either during working hours or outside them to participate in volunteer activities sponsored by the company. If we volunteer outside of working hours (e.g. on a Saturday) we are paid for that time as if we were working. It’s truly a great program. You feel good giving back to the community, and you get compensated!

    1. Anonymousaurus Rex*

      Also, I should add–it’s also truly voluntary. Plenty of people don’t take advantage of this benefit and there’s no consequence to not volunteering.

    2. lawschoolmorelikeblawschool*

      You just reminded me I have a similar benefit (and actually much more time!) that I need to take advantage of!

    3. EddieSherbert*

      I know a few people with this benefit, and I think it’s amazing! For one of the companies,I was curious and looked them up online, and they don’t even really publicly advertise that they do that (I was kind of expecting it to be a major PR thing). That made me really happy to see (and not see? haha).

  17. Rebecca*

    The passive aggressive comments are annoying but they might be coming from a place of “if I’m forced to do this, you should be too,” but that’s still not your problem. Slightly different situation, but I used to work at a nonprofit where the event coordinator was always not-so-subtly shaming everyone else in our department for not volunteering at community events after hours or on weekends. I sometimes think people who are charged with setting up these activities don’t really get the meaning of the word “optional.”

  18. LadyByTheLake*

    The fact that the company is sponsoring this event, expects to and does get clients from it, and that OP is judged on whether they participate makes this sound like work that OP should be getting paid for.

  19. voyager1*

    I worked at a bank for a while that sponsored a golf tournament. Employees would be volunteers, for the entire event and were allowed to get a day off during the rest of the year. I thought that was a good and fair way of doing it. Most people volunteered for the Thursday or Friday, I always opted for the weekend because more of the management was around so I got more time and was seen by people who actually mattered. It helped me no doubt get a promotion.

    To me LW, yes volunteering sucks but think of it as networking and building capital with management.

    1. SezU*

      But you also got another day off in return… which to me, is a fairer trade than you just giving up your weekend, however open to it you may be.

  20. Paralegal Part Deux*

    Is there anyway to negotiate to volunteer for the company charities during regular business hours?

  21. Shannon*

    AAM’s advice is spot-on. I used to get out of things with a blanket, “I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but I actually work on Saturdays, so I won’t be able to participate in these events, although I wish I could!” And if they follow up/ask me to take off/whatever, “I really can’t afford to miss it at this point. Sorry I can’t be there!”

    Whether it’s caretaking, a second job, housecleaning, or the fact that I’m STILL on Episode 2 of Stranger Things is not relevant, IMO. :)

  22. Oxford Comma*

    OP: I am curious. Are you being directly approached to volunteer? Are these calls for volunteers being sent out to everyone like in a company-wide email blast or in the form of announcements? Are the passive-aggressive comments coming in a similar form?

    1. I Am The OP*

      There are company-wide announcements but there are also specific one-on-one interactions happening. No one has ever said, “Can you volunteer for x?” but instead, “We’d really like it if you’d volunteer!” It seems innocent enough until I hear disparaging comments during our executives’ hallway conversations or when they make general statements about employees not being committed to the non-volunteering people.

  23. Polymer Phil*

    A charity I’m involved with gets a lot of corporate volunteers. You can always tell when a company is arm-twisting people who don’t want to be there, versus when it’s truly voluntary. There are certain companies whose volunteers I don’t like to work with, and I strongly suspect they’re semi-forced to participate. The best volunteers usually come from companies that schedule these things on weekdays during work hours.

  24. Spek*

    Uff I feel your pain. My company has a facility in a disadvantaged area of town, and due to noise and trucks, does not have a good relationship with the community. To combat this, they do a “Beach Clean Up” in the area, making sure they provide banners and shirts to us the day before, so the neighborhood knows for sure were are there. So in exchange for 5 hours of our time, we get a shirt and $3 worth of hot dogs and soda.
    But even worse – every year they do a “Toy Drive”, where we are expected to donate a toy and the CEO shows up at an annual neighborhood event and magnanimously gives out all the toys to the neighborhood kids. Last year I got a lot of hairy eyeball for stating that I was going to donate a toy to the local fire department drive, as I didn’t think it was right for the company to use the toy I paid for to help THEIR PR problem…

    1. WellRed*

      “Last year I got a lot of hairy eyeball for stating that I was going to donate a toy to the local fire department drive, as I didn’t think it was right for the company to use the toy I paid for to help THEIR PR problem…”

      This is beautiful!

  25. mf*

    For the unpaid lunches, I would first try talking to your boss. “I really enjoy our team lunches, but unfortunately I don’t think I can attend them any longer. Since these lunches are unpaid, it’s become a burden for me to make up the time in the evenings in order to be sure I get paid for 40 hours per week.”

    If boss pushes back/reacts badly, you could try going to these lunches but leaving early to ensure you’re taking no more than 1 hour for lunch. “Sorry team, but I have to duck out early. I can’t stay late tonight to make up for a long break. Enjoy the rest of your lunch!”

  26. travelcompanygirl*

    My company is big time into this too, we don’t get paid, only increases the company’s reputation. They even incentivize it as one of our wellness points. Super!!!

  27. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    My toes curled thinking about this kind of lowkey “shame” that some places have put into place for those who play the “It’s optional! But if you opt out, there will be consequences…”

    In the end, this is what boils down to an office culture issue and the only way that changes is when there’s a leadership who’s willing to overhaul or when leadership changes and the new ones agree that this is egregious behavior.

  28. Kelly*

    My sympathies to OP and anyone else experiencing this! I work for a start-up company, and management decided it would be beneficial to attend various events, such as Relay for Life (cancer) and a Memorial Day Parade. “It’ll be fun! Bring your kids!” We were encouraged to provide food, too. Some who volunteered backed out the day of, and this frustrated the assistant manager leading to resentment. A lot of baked goods went unsold. (I detest bake sales. I provided bottled water). Another morning she needed someone to drive out of town just to set up the tent. I volunteered so much in my 20s and 30s, developed compassion fatigue, and now in my 40s I’m selfish with my free time.

  29. DaffyDuck*

    I wonder how many of the employees are hourly? If the majority are salaried they may not even think about how the lunches impact your workday. It is easy for them to say “make up the time” if you just say it pushes your leaving time back. If you explain you need to find and pay a babysitter to pick up your child from daycare; don’t get home until 9 pm due to increased traffic, have to work on the weekend to make up time, etc. they may be more likely to make changes.

    1. mf*

      I had this issue in my last role. I was the sole hourly person on a team of around 10 people. They would do long lunches or leave early for happy hour. It really sucked that I always skipping these events or showing up a lot later.

      Note to managers: *please* pay attention to how these optional get-togethers impact your hourly employees! You’re essentially excluding them if you don’t try to accommodate the legal restrictions of their jobs.

      1. Bunny Girl*

        Yeeeep. I was wondering this too. I’m hourly in a department where most people are salary and it causes a lot of problems. The couple hourly people are expected to attend social events and stuff (we don’t) and there’s a lot of grumbles and such when we don’t show up. But any time we have, we’ve been expected to clean up and set up things so it’s not social for us; it’s work! And free work so no thanks. There’s also issues on the other end, where we try to take a lunch or leave at our normal time and the salaried people try to ask us to stay late or help them with something during our lunch hour and it’s like bro no I’m not getting paid for this….

    2. Jadelyn*

      Agreed re salaried folks not even thinking about it. Until recently, I was the only hourly person on a team of half a dozen salaried folks. When I awkwardly broached the subject of long team lunches and if I could spread out my make-up time over a couple days rather than staying late, since I didn’t have keys to the office and had to leave when the last managers left so I couldn’t make it all up on the same day, my manager and teammates were shocked and then contrite – it hadn’t been malicious, they just really hadn’t thought about how those lunches would affect someone with an hourly timesheet. My manager started adjusting my lunch punches for those days so I didn’t have to stay late at all.

      That said, from other things OP said in their letter, it sounds more like a culture of unofficial unpaid time reigns at that office and the lunches are just one symptom of that. So I’m not sure I’d hold out much hope for change if the OP brings up the lunches and the hourly thing.

  30. House Tyrell*

    Regarding the lunches, you could always ask about staying clocked in during them since even if work isn’t being outright discussed, they are fostering a team environment and all that. When I was hourly, my job had tons of lunches and allowed the hourly staff to stay clocked in during them if we were already there (you couldn’t clock in if you just came in for the lunch.) I believe they were supposed to have us clock out, but my bosses decided that not stressing us out over hours and our morale was worth more than saving $8-10 per the handful of people who were hourly at the lunches that rarely ran over an hour anyway.

    1. I Am The OP*

      I asked my boss and he specifically said it’s unpaid because it’s not a company event, although it has the same mandatory feel as the volunteer events. He verified this with HR. I have worked at places where these types of lunches are paid, which definitely helps a person relax and team build! That’s awesome that your company recognizes this.

  31. Geneva*

    I feel you OP! I know how hard it is to set reasonable boundaries with an employer that makes unreasonable demands of your time. It can be done, but from what I’ve seen, only the higher ups don’t get penalized for it.

    I think you have two options: conform, or leave because the odds of their culture changing are slim.

    I was actually reorganized out of my nonprofit job for not working “voluntary” overtime on evenings and weekends, donating a percentage of my little salary back to the organization(!), and taking all of my lunches with the team. Eff that lol

  32. drpuma*

    OP, if part of the purpose of these volunteer events is to drum up clients, I wonder if there are some other business development activities you could get involved with that are more compatible with your regular workload and work day. You say you are hourly, so I assume your role is not sales-generating, but I wonder if the sour grapes are not because non-participants aren’t volunteering but because they’re not helping to bring new clients in? Maybe you could capitalize on that? “I won’t be able to make the event, but I’ll be happy to help Jane prep the materials for our booth at the upcoming conference.”

    1. I Am The OP*

      I love this idea. I am able to accommodate these types of activities during my work hours and it would definitely be a win-win!

  33. JediSquirrel*

    “I’m sorry, my religion doesn’t permit me to participate in after-hours work events.”

  34. leya*

    yeah, this completely blows. my partner’s company manages to actually encourage volunteering in a great way: you get (i believe) 3 days of PTO a year, separate from vacation/sick/personal time, that you can use for volunteering. doesn’t dictate the cause and makes sure people don’t have to take a hit on it.

  35. Amethystmoon*

    The company I work for does count volunteering time as work time, but I think it depends on where you volunteer. They have their chosen places that they want people to help at. If I volunteered for say, Toastmasters, I wouldn’t get paid unless it was during the day at work. and that would depend on your manager.

  36. Stephanie*

    Ugh, this reminds me of the “optional” United Way participation at some companies (current employer doesn’t make me do this, luckily). At an old job, my boss wouldn’t let me leave until I filled out the United Way pledge form.

  37. SezU*

    Could you “volunteer” to do some pre-event stuff…. hopefully, during time which you are being actually paid? For instance, designing and/or printing flyers? Stuffing envelopes? Some way to give back without it cutting into your free time and getting you off the hook of giving up a Saturday?

  38. Buttons*

    I often wonder if employers are really this clueless or they just don’t care. My feeling on this changes day to day, depending on just how cynical I feel. LOL
    Current company- there are a few charities the company supports. An event email will go out with a volunteer or participation sign up sheet, and the spots usually fill up so fast that people are disappointed they missed out. The company also gives 2 volunteer days for employees to volunteer anywhere they want 2x a year, with pay and without it coming from their PTO.
    We also have regular STEM events at local schools and job fairs at local universities. Both have their own page on our intranet and people can volunteer to be a participant or company representative at any of those events.
    This is how you do it if you really care about employees giving back to their community.

    1. Batgirl*

      I think it’s both. A lot of companies get really wrapped up in their mission to the point they assume everyone feels the same. Also, bosses tend to miss being told ‘well done’ like an employee once they get to the top, so swanking around like a big shot philanthropist is heaven to them. Then they get all bent out of shape that their employees aren’t as ‘committed’ to their egos as they are.
      Lonely at the top? Need appreciation? Why get a dog when you have employees?

      1. Shannon*

        I’m probably generalizing here, but a lot of upper-management types, especially in a family-run company, view these events as actually fun, because they’re socializing with their normal circle/family members. Meanwhile, other people’s social and family lives are centered outside of work. They genuinely think it’s a pleasure to do these things, like us regular folks view trivia night with friends, or whatever. Not to mention, they likely have more vacation days and are better-paid, so it’s NBD to them to sacrifice a Saturday when they can just take Monday/Tuesday off, etc.

  39. Matt*

    Perhaps the OP is looking at this through the wrong lens. Personally, I’m not a fan of work happy hours, holiday parties, or work-related volunteer activities for a cause that I may or may not believe in. However, what if you view these activities differently? What if you look at these events as opportunities to get to know your coworkers better and beyond meetings and work interactions? Could you use these events as a way to have conversations with managers or executives in a more informal setting? You might find your next work crisis or issue easier to work through because you have a stronger relationship with your coworkers. You may have an easier time asking for a promotion or raise because you’ve spent quality time with leaders outside of the office. And you never know, you may realize you have something in common with a coworker and make a new friend. If you look at these events under the umbrella of ‘career development’ vs. unpaid work, you might find that the small investment of time is worthwhile.

  40. JSPA*

    while I’m pretty well irked for OP (volunteering should be exactly that), setting that aside, I wonder if OP could offer to wear company gear / be visibly part of the company while doing their regular volunteering, and whether the company might find that a useful form of outreach as well. Now, this may well depend on the needs and disposable income of the other volunteers, and the level of contact volunteers have with each other, as well as whether the situation is conducive to people taking pictures. Some very worthy sorts of volunteer work (like staffing hotlines) are a big zero, as far as slapping corporate logos and doing outreach. But many other sorts of volunteering are highly visible.

    “I am a long-time volunteer for X and Y, I’ve checked out their policy on having groups from businesses come in, and in lieu of participating in Company Event in November, I’d be glad to find volunteers in the company who’d also like to volunteer for X for three hours or spend a sunday afternoon helping with Y. They are open to having company volunteers take a group photo on site to use in promotional materials. People in the community such as Bigwig Jones and Mrs. Maven volunteer there, so there’s a reasonable chance that this will bring in business, too. If I have your blessing, I would like to try this two or three times in the next year, and then determine if it has been enjoyable for our people and effective in terms of branding and outreach.”

  41. Not my real name*

    This doesn’t help OP, but a strong culture of volunteering doesn’t have to suck!

    Alison’s right: it has to be voluntary! People who like to volunteer will love it, but no one should be forced into it. And don’t get me started on forcing people to support a cause they disagree with! That just waters down the options for events.

    And it could/should be paid. I do corporate volunteer events unpaid, because I like too, if I believe in the cause. I’m salaried, so I can go make dinners at the Ronald McDonald house or whatever and just …. work both my personal and work life around it. What’s more, my company let’s me take a half day every quarter to volunteer for whatever I want. (Non-exempts are paid for that time.) No paperwork/proof is required for this.

    My immediate boss’s support for my volunteer work and the flexibility that allows is a huge part of my work/life balance satisfaction.

  42. I'd Rather Not Say*

    Our company gives us 8 hours of PTO a year that can be used for volunteering. Maybe you could suggest this as a compromise.

  43. agnes*

    This is happening to my husband. He is constantly being pressured to volunteer for allegedly optional events. He did it for a while and the first time he refused his boss retaliated by changing his schedule to a crazy difficult one. I suggested that he ask his boss why his schedule was changed and if it had anything to do with him not showing up for a volunteer event. The boss said, of course not, but……. SURPRISE SURPRISE his schedule was immediately changed back to what it had been before.

  44. Leela*

    At a previous job there was enormous pressure for charity and it was financial. We got shame-y e-mails and an angry beat-down from the VP because we hadn’t generated the same money of donations, from our personal salaries, as had been collected the previous years. We were short about 1K – the amount that was always donated by the previous CEO who had left earlier that year.

    We even had e-mails sent out asking people to agree to have their wages auto-garnished for charities of the company’s choosing. It was invasive and disgusting beyond belief, and it really came off like it was just so our parent company could count our money among the amount they plastered all over their page and mailers about how committed they are to charity. We were in a hiring and raise freeze and they were squeezing us for financial donations to make themselves look more charitable. You have never seen such an effective way to torpedo morale.

    1. BerkeleyFarm*

      Oh yeah. I have been there. I heard about the director’s temper tantrums that none of the people in my well-paid group were contributing. Polite pushback about “we have previous commitments for our charity money elsewhere” was not received well because it was the “United Way” competition and HE LOOKED BAD to the other directors.

      This after numerous articles had come out about the overhead that UW had relative to other organizations.

      Re the OP, it’s baloney that they aren’t paying her on the clock (minus whatever the regular lunch break is) for a “team lunch” and the pressure to work for free for “Business Development” events is also baloney.

      1. CanCan*

        I always donate $1 to the United Way. I don’t like how they are run as a charity, so I don’t want to give them money. But if I give $1, I can truthfully say “I have already donated” to any donation requests. Also helps my team/department to achieve the higher participation percentage that they are looking for. Thankfully, nobody has access to the actual amount donated by any specific individual.

  45. Capt. Dunkirk*

    It seems to me that in most cases when a company says, “we want employees who are committed”, what they really mean is that they want employees who are willing to work beyond what they’re being valued at so the company can get more from them without spending extra money.

    I know that’s a jaded view of things, but it’s rare that I see when this isn’t the case.

    1. I Am The OP*

      This is a valid point. It’s especially frustrating when employees are already high-producing and even more is expected.

  46. Tiara Wearing Princess*

    About lunch: have you asked your manager if you have to make up the time? Maybe he doesn’t know that’s what you’re doing? If he does, maybe asking him would shame him into telling you you don’t gave to (especially since you’re hourly)

    About Saturdays: you babysit, care for elderly relative or neighbor and there is no one else to do it. Mention this to at least one other coworker before the next event as preemptive strike.

    About The Event: as others here said, only you know if you can take the hit for not going. Go to every other one, your car breaks down on the way (or insert reason here). Even with repercussions, i don’t think you have to go to every single one.

    Sorry you are going through this nonsense.

  47. Blarg*

    “I will be unable to attend as I will be at my second job. If participating in the event will be paid at my hourly rate, I may be able to reschedule.”

  48. RB*

    I was going to add something about caretaker responsibilities, but Alison beat me to it. It’s ok to have a long-standing regular commitment, and it’s especially more believable if you’re female, such as “I take care of my mother on Saturday mornings” or I babysit my nieces on Tuesday evenings” but if these people know you really well they might know if that’s true or not. That’s why I don’t have my colleagues as Facebook friends. This is not to say that men can’t have those same kinds of long-standing regularly-occurring caretaker commitments — it’s just that females usually bear the larger share of those roles.

  49. NEWBIEMD19*

    Wow, that’s not…right. When I was in college I spent one summer working for a medical practice where the partners really prided themselves on community service and encouraged everyone to help out at events. The difference was that they paid us for the time we put in. They figured that the people working for the practice allowed the practice itself to do work that raised its profile in the city so those people should be paid. If that makes any sense?

  50. Anita Brayke*

    Ugh. I worked at a Major Nationwide Charity and was “fortunate” enough to overhear the financial director calling employees, telling they weren’t contributing enough to Other Major Nationwide Charity, and that they really need to give more.

  51. Delta Delta*

    If they were being honest (and it sounds like they’re not), they’d pay for it, since it’s technically employees engaging in marketing.

    If it were me, I’d use the “volunteering” as “networking” so I could “get a new job working for people who aren’t jerks.”

  52. Clementine*

    I wouldn’t be thrilled about this, but I think it would be foolish not to recognize that non-participation may be a black mark against you. What is formally allowed, and what happens in practice, are two separate things.

  53. StaceyIzMe*

    This one sounds cut and dried, in a sense. If you really love your job otherwise, maybe once every six months or once a year would work? But if you’re “meh” and there are other opportunities that you can develop professionally, it’s not worth spending free time on. Almost every company has a cultural “wart” or two, metaphorically speaking. Is this just one fly in the proverbial ointment or is it a case of “no, you shall go no further in your encroachment on my personal time”? The answer should clarify how you decide to proceed.

  54. ..Kat..*

    If LW is paid hourly, it sounds like she is non-exempt. If so, isn’t she supposed to be paid for her time “volunteering?”

  55. Jennifer Juniper*

    Depending on how dysfunctional the company is, LW may wish to start job searching. They could be fired for not volunteering if the company is the US under the rubric of “not a team player.”

  56. CanCan*

    If coming up with excuses is difficult, consider not even doing that. Be vague: I don’t have the spare time, or I have other commitments (because these are true – even if it’s a commitment with yourself to have an enjoyable evening/weekend). If they insist, ask point blank if it’s a job requirement. To any passive-aggressive comments like “not committed enough”, answer that you are committed to doing your job well, but you have other commitments as well, so your spare time is spoken for.

    For team lunches, don’t go. Your reason is perfectly valid, and should be respected. “I won’t be going, as I don’t have the time. See you at 1pm!” They are imposing on YOUR time! No employer has a right to do that! If they boss says it’s for team building, ask if there’s anything you need to do to improve your teamwork skills. And say, again point blank, “Is going to team lunches a required part of the job? If yes, of course I will go, but then of course the law requires that I should be paid for this time. And if it isn’t required, then I would rather not go, thank you.”

    Also sounds like you should start job searching.

    I nominate this for the “worst employer” line-up. Seriously, this makes my blood boil! Pressuring employees to take part in “volunteer” activities and taking credit for it is THEFT.

    (Obviously, there are jobs that require after-hours marketing/schmoozing activities. But those are salaried/exempt jobs, like lawyers attending charity events to drum up business. But there, it’s understood that it’s work, not volunteering out of love for the cause. This isn’t the case here, at all.)

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