Time off for events

How do other mentors handle time off to go to events?
Were any of you able to convince your workplace to give you some kind of volunteer time?

I have a M-F schedule.
We go to two regionals 2 days each.
State fair event 1 day.
3M event 1 day
Someday champs?

I also have 4 boys at home that like to do stuff with their dad (young enough to think I’m still cool), so last year I missed a regional and one event because of only so much vacation time. Now as the new lead, I’d like to figure out how to make it work.

Would be nice if I can come up with a way to convince my company to either write off my time as a “consultant” or even just go unpaid for these events. They’re kind of a stickler about time off, so I want to go in with a strong case.

See also this topic:

It really depends on the company, unfortunately. When I was at BSC, I got some time off for events, though not everything I would have wanted - my managers viewed it essentially as a compromise, and it helped that the company was sponsoring the team. Since then, it’s something I’ve brought up in interviews (and is on my resume, which often leads them to bring up the general topic), and when negotiating for a new job I include additional time off specifically because of events. My current job, I got an additional 5 days of vacation above normal for new employees.

My total time out of office each year for robotics (volunteering at events, in addition to having a team at some of them):

  • 3 days for the Duluth Regionals
  • 3 days for the Grand Forks Regional
  • 2 days for the Minneapolis Regionals (being just a 10 minute drive from the office, I typically put in a couple of extra hours earlier in the week and head down early on Wednesday, letting me avoid that extra day off).
  • 3 days for Champs
  • 1 day for the Gitchi Gummi off-season

It’s a big time commitment. While getting work to help out really does help, it also helps to build up a sizable group of mentors. My team was at the 3M event last week, but I wasn’t - other mentors handled it. We managed to schedule our day at the State Fair for this upcoming Sunday - I’ll be there, although some other mentors won’t. So it ends up being a bit of a give-and-take, ensuring proper mentor coverage at each event and realizing that you don’t necessarily need to do it all yourself.

I would recommend focusing on the regionals first, and trying to trade off the other, smaller events with other mentors and parents. In my experience, events like the State Fair and 3M, or other outreach events, tend to run themselves if you let the students take charge - mentors are just there to keep an eye on things, which anyone can do.

Thanks for the link. I looked around but didn’t find that before posting.

My company gives us 1 volunteer day/year. My manager was incredibly supportive of me mentoring a team and allowed me to take off for regionals and champs. I can’t say whether other managers here would do the same. As long as my work was done, he didn’t mind. He saw it as a great leadership training program in addition to giving back to the community. I would typically work extra hours before an event to mostly make up the time I’d miss. Off-season events I’d use my personal vacation time.

My company doesn’t give any volunteer time off, the days I take off for robotics events come out of my vacation days, and when I was a contractor it was unpaid vacation. But I really only take off for regionals (and Champs if we ever qualify). We rarely have team events during the workday, and we have several retired mentors who can chaperone those.

My company also launched a foundation last year to handle grants and community outreach, and one of the changes they’re working toward is a VTO policy. It’s apparently a complicated change to make (and there’s a lot of other things on their plate) so it may be a while, but it seems likely to happen eventually.

I have 30 days of vacation time to work with. This year I used a week and a half for San Diego (Del Mar was a Friday thru Sunday event so I used one less day to get these). FLR was easy: I used two days for Thursday and Friday. Did The same thing for Greater Pittsburgh. For Wisconsin I had to use a Wednesday for 12 hours of travel to Wisconsin and the usual two days for the event. For Texas District Champs I did something really crazy (misspelt stupid) I used a day and a half of travel time to get back and forth from Rochester to Austin (1600 + miles!!!) plus the two days for the event. On the trip back I was rationing sleep and made it back in time for my shift at work. For MSC and 2Champs I dedicated two and a half weeks of vacation time to go from Saginaw to Houston and then to Detroit (with stops in St. Louis in between to pick up Ben) I still had time to use a day for IRI (I drove through the night to Indy from home and drove home when the event ended. I used another half day for driving to R2OC. I still have a half day which I would’ve used for Robots@CNE but it seemed pointless to come so late that day so I’ll use that half day to help with Rah Cha Cha Ruckus setup, The rest of my off seasons are day trips really so I can either leave in the middle of the night to go to them or go straight there from work (sleeping in rest stops on the way there).
I’m already scheming what I’m gonna do next year (Think 3 and a half weeks of travel with Vex Worlds in between the 2Champs sandwich.


I don’t get any explicit time off for Robotics, however they are flexible with my time, so I can take off early 1-2 days a week during Build Season. For the 2019 season, I used 3 of my 10 vacation days for robotics, 1 for a full build day when the students had a day off and 2 for the Bayou Regional.

In my last raise negotiations I tried to get extra vacation time, and while I didn’t get it, they did make an informal agreement to allow some “flex time” for my volunteer efforts. While I generally don’t trust anything from HR not in writing, my Tech Lead, whom I report to, was also there, and I do feel I can trust him to honor it for the 2020 season, especially since 3468 plans to attend 2 regionals.

Be careful about leaving a few days for when you get sick, the hot water heater leaks or your car dies. Also allow a day or two for when travel arrangements go awry. Due to bad weather and cancelled flights, I had to spend an extra weekday to get back to Houston from the Ontario Provincial Championship in 2018.

The answer is going to be very employer and employee dependent. But you know this.

I work for a non-profit (no paid volunteer time for working other interests) AND I work every other weekend (Fr-Mo). But my six 12 hours shifts are sorta bunched into one week of a two week pay period. So as long as events are on my “off” weekend, all is good!

This season, we went to an away regional, home regional, and Worlds. Lucky for me, two of the three were on my off weekend! I took PTO for the other event where I was scheduled to work. …I actually have my calendar blocked off every other weekend a year+ in advance so I can better plan. Not sure how you’re doing a Regional in two days though, I spend at least four days and more if there is serious traveling involved.
We also have the offseason comps, demos, state fair, etc. Those are less important to me and I attend when I’m able and don’t worry much about those I can’t.

But to answer your real question: how to convince employer to provide volunteer time.
If it’s difficult now, you need to change the culture of the company. Advocate, advocate, advocate. Show the benefits the students provide to the community and their future. How can that benefit your employer today and tomorrow.
Or, better consider the perks and benny package when next looking for a new employer. If FIRST events are important enough to you, ensure your new employer supports that or at least doesn’t inhibit. I understand looking for a new job is a bit extreme, but if you’re in the market, make sure your FIRST “wants” are negotiated BEFORE you’re hired.

If your four boys become interested (hopefully) in FIRST, you’ll have even more events to deal with! YIKES!!

Good luck,

This year I was out of the office for 2 days for stop build, 5 days for 3 regionals, and 4 days for championship (11 days) but only took 30 hours of PTO through the magic of flex time.

Unlike adding volunteer days or adding PTO, allowing you to flex your time doesn’t cost the employer anything more, so they may be more amenable to it.

Push your state for districts…one of the biggest perks of the district system for me is that I rarely, if ever, need to waste PTO on robotics. I get 1 paid volunteer day from work, and for any other events I can just work later other nights, but even that depends on the manager. My company encourages volunteer work and mentoring because it builds leadership and organizational skills.

It may be that the strongest case you make is education and demonstration of value.

I sympathize with the demands of build and competition seasons.
This year I invited one of my company VPs to an event. She was amazed at the event, the enthusiasm, and the number of students . She left the event commenting that now she knows where the workforce of the future is coming from!

If you can turn the situation into a benefit to your company, you may have a better chance for them to cut you some slack!

Time off is earned and can be used however you want. I straight up tell my employers I will be taking days off during robot season for both team events and volunteering for events. In some years I can do many events, in others less. Sort of depends on my own PTO bank.

Last year 1 day of competition as a mentor+ 3 workweek days volunteering earlier that week at another event without our team + weeks later 2 days volunteering with team there.

That was 6 days using 3 days of my freshly acquired PTO as I just started working at a new company a few months earlier… its was just enough to do the three events, so it worked out.

I don’t really have any suggestions for convincing your company to let you do robots without using your vacation days (other than asking very nicely), but I have a couple tips to avoid using vacation days:

I’ll second the flex time suggestion, though honestly I personally really don’t like doing this if I can avoid it. My team works exclusively in the evenings, so during an event week I’ll typically be at the school 2-4 evenings before the event to pack the trailer and/or use unbag time. This means I’m out of the house for 15 hours straight several days in a row, and it’s exhausting.

You could also ask if you can shift your schedule (ex/ working S-S-M-T-W and taking Th-F off). Some people or companies might also call this flex time, I personally don’t. Downside of this is that you’re “going” for 8 days straight (5 days of work + 3 days of robots) with no break. Also exhausting.

Last trick I have for saving vacation time is taking half days instead of full days if the event is within easy driving distance - like working in the morning on Th-F and robots in the afternoon both days. Saves you a day of PTO!

I’m fully remote at a company that in addition to thinking my volunteer work is awesome fully supports robotics. And has an unlimited vacation policy. So, as long as my stuff all gets done nobody cares that I take a few days off to drive across the country to attend regionals (well, they didn’t care, they did ask me if I was crazy).

Previously, my employer provided 40 hours a year of civic time and reasonable vacation time.

One option I haven’t seen here - ask your company to give you extra PTO in exchange for being named a sponsor of the team.

Your time can be considered an in-kind donation that a.) they can write off, and b.) benefits the team.

This should, of course, only be done with approval of the mentors and students.

I assume you mean “in exchange for” instead of “in lieu of”

Derp. Fixed.

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Even if my company didn’t do unlimited* vacation, I would probably still get my robotics days “for free” because they are so incredibly supportive of mentoring. I know other companies give employees free PTO if they’re doing “skill based volunteering” which mentoring can easily fall into.

*unlimited vacation: a tactic used by companies so that they don’t have to pay out vacation if/when an employee leaves. Additionally, studies found those with unlimited vacation take less time off.