A number of federal units are planning to set up systems that will allow workers whose jobs are secure to volunteer to take short periods of leave without pay to help save positions of coworkers who are targeted for RIFs next year.

More than 3,000 Washington-area feds are slated to be RIFfed next month because their agencies must cut spending up to 16 percent between now and next September.

Two groups of workers at the Labor Department already have signed up to take LWOP with the understanding that their financial sacrifices will prevent or minimize layoffs. One Agriculture operation is polling workers to see if there is sufficient interest in job-saving LWOP actions.

Office of Personnel Management, facing both RIFs and furloughs, is considering a program that would allow workers who are slated for furloughs of one day per pay period (one day every two weeks) to pick their own time. If it is approved, employes slated for one-day-per-pay-period furloughs could, instead, take their LWOP all at once and get it over with.

The idea of saving jobs through voluntary furloughs came from a number of readers of this column. They suggested that we poll feds to see how people felt about the idea of taking LWOP if it would save people in their agency from being fired. We asked for comments on Oct. 21. By Nov. 13 more than 11,000 people had voted by letter or card. By a 10-to-1 ratio, employes said they would voluntarily give up a few days' pay if it would save jobs. Reagan administration people saw the results.

Many departments now are considering voluntary LWOP to reduce RIFs. Some say their budget picture is so grim that they will be forced into some RIFs, anyhow. Others will impose furloughs. But Labor Department figures it can save 50 people from dismissal because of the 400 who have volunteered to take 10 days' LWOP over the next couple of months. That won't solve the RIF problem, but it is a good start.