Being on-call and how to still have a life!

So, one of the requirements of my current job is being on-call. I won’t call it an upside or a downside, because it really is a bit of both.

The downside it means I have to have my work phone on me at all times when I’m on-call, make sure my laptop is with me when I plan on going out in case something happens and be prepared to be woken at ungodly hours of the morning…and that happens the most. No one needs you at 8 or 9pm, everyone needs you at 2 or 3am >.< That’s the bad side.

On the upside it means that I get an on-call ‘bonus’ and I get paid overtime for any work I do out of hours – which can be a nice little bit of ‘extra’ in your pay when you need it. Has definitely come in handy a few times! There’s also the fact that you’re involved in immediate action scenarios – something is broken and needs to be fixed *NOW* – I actually like this. It gives me hands on experience with systems and it means that I become far more knowledgeable about them in the long run. There’s also being part of disaster recovery, if that every happens…which it has for me. That was an amazing eye opener, I got to work with some amazing people and in the end, we got things back up and running before the users had barely noticed. That’s a really good feeling.

One of the issues I see quite often is people complaining about being on-call – if I look into threads on forums or websites about being in IT or being a sysadmin, I see many people saying they won’t take jobs if there’s on-call demands as part of the job description, or they only apply for jobs that don’t have on-call included. There’s a bit of a stigma attached to it in our industry, because if you’re on-call it means you can’t have a life.

I call bullshit.

When I first started being on-call I’d make sure I was home. I’d cancel plans (if I’d made any accidentally before checking my calendar to see I was on-call) and I’d stay at home for those two weeks, really only going out to go to work and do the weekly shop. It was a bit of a sad way to live. But this was when I first started being on-call – in my last job I’d never really been on-call so this was all new and strange to me and I didn’t want to screw it up.

Fast forward to now. I’m a bit more…relaxed when it comes to being on-call now. I trust the systems I’m running, I understand what I’m going to be required to do should someone call me at 2am in the morning. I don’t cancel my plans. I do have a drink or two, because my world doesn’t stop when I’m on-call – and to be honest, I’m going to be less impaired after a cider or two than I am if you call me and wake me from dead sleep at 3:30am…

I figure that as long as I’m able to get to my phone and get to my laptop (which pretty much lives in my car when I’m on-call) I’m fine. I nominate myself as designated driver for events because I know that I’m going to need to be sober, but that shouldn’t prevent me from having a nice night out with friends or family.

Being on-call doesn’t prevent you from having a life – only *you* do. If you being on-call means you hunker down and spend every waking moment when you’re not work at home because you’re worried “something could go wrong” it means that the systems you’re looking after aren’t reliable…and the only person who can fix that is you.

So don’t worry so much about being on-call – it really isn’t the end of the world.

2 thoughts on “Being on-call and how to still have a life!

  1. jd

    just a +1 for this – but only if you are in a company that take care of you, and the environment.

    Had worked for an (IT!) Company that doesn’t give the time to fix things – so on call means working all the night because it was a buggy system. That was shit.

    But beeing oncall (now) will not get me out of cinema or a pub – as you already mention with a beer (or two) you relax a little more if the phone rings and you save the world.


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