Finding time to volunteer can test your creativity
14 February 2005
by Joy Dovia

Your collegiate days are over. You've got the diploma and college loan bills to prove it. You might even have your very own suit, tie and cubicle job. Congrats, kid. You've grown up.

As you lead your company to greatness — it will happen one day, right? — you decide to do something truly adult-like by getting involved in your community.

Sure, you'd rather spend your after-work hours lounging on your couch, but you're an esteemed college graduate and must give back to society!

It's an easy move — if volunteer activities are held on weekends or after work.

But what do you do if your obligations conflict with your work schedule? Like that lunch meeting that's 30 minutes away, or the event that bumps up against the beginning or end of your workday.

For youngsters in the working world, getting away from the office isn't always easy. You have zero seniority, lacking the power to lobby for hours off. Or you're new in your job and hesitant to make such a request.

Steve Vogt, 26, has battled such problems. In his old job, he never asked for hours off during the day because he doubted he'd get approval.

So what did he do when he had a lunch meeting of young professional groups on the other side of town? He'd use two vacation hours.

Or when he needed time off during the day so he could set up a booth at an event to promote his new organization?

"I just called in sick, unfortunately, " said Vogt, who started Transitions, which is an area think tank for young workers.

Vogt, in his current job, at first skipped such meetings because he thought he was too new to request time off.

But as he got more comfortable in his job, he shifted around his hours — as long as he made up the lost time later and still finished his work.

Whether a worker can successfully jockey for hours off during a workday often depends on the employer, said Steve Davis of Grenell Consulting.

You might stick to groups that don't require time off work, such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters, if you're at a company that doesn't value volunteer work or isn't pushing for greater community visibility, he said.

Such workers might eventually win more leeway if they become known as big contributors to the community, making the company look good.

"Or you could get sneaky," he added. "Find out about your boss's interests and do something he or she supports. Your supervisor might be more likely to give you a little bit of time off."

But whatever you do, don't just assume that because you are young and inexperienced you won't be able to win an hour or two off work. Maybe that's not how your employer views you.

"A young worker is either somewhat cocky and arrogant, because they just graduated second in their class from whatever school, or they think they're some 22-year old sap who is lucky just to have a job, undervaluing their contributions to the company," Davis said.

"Somewhere in the middle is a reality that works well."

You might convince skeptical supervisors by outlining your community goals and offering status reports, said Kelly Saucke, of the Rochester Young Professionals, an area networking group.

"Show them that it's not a waste of time, that you're really making strides in the community," she added.

After all, such activities can help you jobwise — especially younger workers who might need such contacts to further their career.

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