24x7 on-call rates

Nicholas Clark nick at ccl4.org
Wed Oct 1 10:34:15 BST 2008

On Wed, Oct 01, 2008 at 10:11:05AM +0100, Dominic Thoreau wrote:
> 2008/9/30 Peter Haworth <pmh at edison.ioppublishing.com>:
> > I know this subject has been discussed on the list before, but I can't

[all good points]

Please note from the following is not from experience of being called out -
there was only one job where I was put on a secondary list, and in 12 months
that only ever called out one person.

> - Shuffle/rota the on-call around - it will burn staff out if they're always on.

I remember observing that boo.com got part of this wrong (in my opinion) -
for weekends they had a different primary and backup for each of Friday night,
Saturday and Sunday. This meant that at least 1 part of every weekend was
on call, which generally buggered things. So at least whole weekends should
be a unit of on call, assuming that whole weeks aren't.

There's also a distinction to be made between best effort (in terms of,
yes you can try to contact me at any time, but I might not be sober) and
"you will be sober, not at the cinema, and in a position to drop everything".

It may be possible to avoid secondaries (or maybe tertiaries) by having
everyone else default to "best effort" (by having phones that can be turned

I guess it depends a lot on how often things break, and how badly they break.

Consistently waking up your staff is bad for morale. Consistently expecting
them to work a night and then a day in the office is bad. As is the
alternative of not having them work, and then the scheduled work gets
behind. It's worse than expecting free overtime. (And that's bad enough)

So I guess the on call rate needs to be financially painful enough that it
makes it make budgetary sense for management to be biased to take decisions
that don't rely on the safety net being there.

Also, getting an on-call phone might be useful, rather than relying on any
existing phones, as that means that there is exactly one number to dial to
get help at 4am, and you won't wake the wrong person if two people swap
slots after a rota has been published.

Nicholas Clark

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