How We Made It Happen: Volunteer Time Off

We have done so much over the last decade, and I want to tell you about one of our proudest achievements.

It required less than 10 words to make the change, but it took more than 10 years to achieve it. Now, it will bring a lifetime of benefits.

Grit doesn’t always show up at work in the ways we expect.

The program is so different today than it was many years ago. This new benefit is the key to what the future can look like.

I recall a meeting more than a decade ago where we strategized about the future of our program. During the meeting, Cynthia, a dear, respected colleague, said to me, “You know there is this benefit that employees can use up to three sick days to volunteer at their child’s school. I always wanted to expand that to include volunteering for any of the nonprofits in our program.”

It made perfect sense for a number of reasons:

  1. Not every employee has children.
  2. Supporting volunteerism is something that always came up in conversations with employees about what they would like to see in the future.
  3. Most importantly, it was good for our communities.

What we didn’t know until six years later was that employee volunteering was the future in social responsibility and employee engagement programs.

So I planned, strategized and researched. Then I started cultivating and sharing this vision with leaders.

I can’t tell you how many times a leader would say to me, “I volunteer at XYZ and I have heard from our employees they volunteer, too. Junelle, have you thought about how we can count and recognize that?”

I would slide a sheet of paper across their desk, show them our plan and say, “I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s this benefit, and our goal is to expand it.” They would then lean back in their chair, cross their arms, hold a thoughtful look on their face and say, “That’s a good idea. Let me know and I will support you.”

During my decade at King County, I’ve probably had this conversation more than 50 times. But there was never that one person who moved it forward.

The challenge is that in a large organization like King County — especially a government agency that is accountable to the public — leaders and priorities change over time.

With frontline employees, I’ve had another conversation over and over. Some of them would exhaust their vacation time to volunteer.

  • Beth, along with her dog, would use vacation time to search for lost kids and hikers.
  • Dave, when disasters struck around the world, would be on a plane immediately and then providing shelter for people who had lost everything.
  • Paul, after the Oso mudslide, used vacation time to assist in helicopter rescue efforts.

Whether they know it or not, they are the ones whose voices echoed in my head as we worked to change the rules.

In fact, it was after the 2014 Oso mudslide when we had our first big break. The organization agreed that we needed a volunteer benefit, and that should negotiate with labor groups.

Our next milestone came when King County moved to a Master Labor Agreement and Total Compensation conversations. That’s when this benefit took an official role in the discussions.

In 2018, it was negotiated and ratified in the Master Labor Agreement. Now, almost all of our employees have this benefit available to them.

Leaders who know, they know how big this is for helping reach our strategic goals as a county:

  • Recruiting and retaining a quality workforce
  • Meeting our equity and social justice goals
  • Making King County a welcoming community where every person can thrive, and our global community can thrive as well

I am proud to support and fight for our employees and communities. It took perseverance, and a willingness to never give up, because we knew it was the right next thing to do.

Use Your Benefit

King County employees: Learn about your benefit, and how you can use it, on the Employee Giving Program website.