Should charity employees be TOILing away?

07 September 2012

Should time off in lieu be part of voluntary sector cultural norm? NfPSynergy's Joe Saxton ruminates on the principle of going the extra mile 


Joe Saxton's blog on this thorny issue of time off in the charity sector has already attracted some spirited comments which can viewed underneath the original article here. The text of his blog has been reproduced below.

Should charity employees be TOILing away?

It has become part of the charity vernacular. “’So and so’ is on TOIL (time off in lieu) today. They worked all weekend and so they’re taking Monday off.” For many charities, TOIL is as endemic a part of the working culture as equal opportunities and pay increments. Every employee really ought to be able to take some time off if they have worked hard above and beyond their normal hours. Who could argue with that?

Well I would. I simply can’t make up my mind whether TOIL is a part of the voluntary sector culture we should accept as a cultural norm.
My first introduction to TOIL was through my sister, who worked for a local authority. She told me about colleagues who routinely arrived 15 minutes before their official work start time of 9am so they could accumulate TOIL and over the course of a year earn an extra week or more of holiday. At the time I thought this was one of the more nitpicky features of local authority culture and was thankful that it wasn’t part of charity culture. 
How wrong I was. I have come across a spectrum of charities recently where TOIL is deeply engrained in the culture. In some it makes complete sense, where pay is low and people work very hard indeed. I have no problem where TOIL is taken after working a 60 or 70 hour instead of a usual 50 hour week. I cannot see that TOIL is right for somebody working one hour extra over a 37 hour week.
For example, I recently heard of one senior director on the services side in a medical charity who recently who took TOIL despite earning closer to £75k than £50k and who accumulates weeks of TOIL because her job is ‘never just 9-5 and often at weekends’. I just don’t believe that senior people in charities should be taking TOIL habitually.  What would a donor think if told that even the highly paid CEO or Fundraising Director of a charity wasn’t prepared to work more than the contractual hours? How would any charity even get started, let alone grow, if volunteers or trustees took this viewpoint? 
Perhaps at the back of my mind is the knowledge that many charities differ hugely in their attitude to working hours. Campaign groups and staff from smaller charities typically work incredibly long hours and regularly go above and beyond the call of duty. In these situations taking measures to reduce the amount of time worked often makes sense. Equally, I know that there are many charities where if I phoned somebody at 6.30pm, or even 5.30pm, the phone would ring and ring. I have been in charities at 5pm and watched the hordes of employees exit en masse.
For some people, paying trustees is breaking one of the sacred covenants of what makes our sector special. For me, the idea that members of staff in charities, particularly those in senior positions, aren’t prepared to give their time above their contracted hours is equally anathema. If a (senior) staff member in a charity wants to adopt the cultural habits that my sister’s colleagues exhibited, they should question why they are working for a charity.

Joe Saxton



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Joe Saxton

Joe Saxton is founder and driver of ideas at nfpSynergy. He was chair of the Institute of Fundraising until July 2008. He is also chair of CharityComms, the new professional body for not-for-profit communicators.

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