Tips on making on-call manageable

oncall manageable

On-call responsibilities are a crucial part of many industries, ensuring that businesses can provide round-the-clock support to their customers. However, the demanding nature of on-call duty can lead to burnout and reduce productivity if not managed effectively. 

In this article, we will explore various strategies and tips to make on-call more manageable, enabling professionals to maintain a healthy work-life balance and deliver exceptional service.

What Is Being OnCall?

Numerous companies within software and services have acknowledged the significance of maintaining uninterrupted service to their applications and systems. As a result of this growing demand on keeping digital services always available, being on-call has emerged as an integral aspect of various technical positions. This paradigm shift also highlights the growing recognition of the essential role played by on-call professionals in ensuring seamless operations and minimizing downtime.

Now, let’s delve into the question – what is being on-call? Being “on-call” refers to the practice of designated individuals within an organization being available outside of regular working hours to respond to and resolve any issues or incidents related to the organization’s applications and systems. When someone is on-call, they are essentially “on standby,” ready to address any technical problems that may arise, regardless of the time or day.

On-call professionals are the first line of defense when it comes to addressing technical issues promptly and effectively. They must be readily available to receive alerts or notifications regarding incidents and be prepared to take immediate action to resolve them. 

This may involve troubleshooting, diagnosing problems, implementing temporary fixes, or coordinating with other teams to ensure a swift resolution. It may also require them to participate and sometimes, lead post-incident reviews to provide insights into the incidents handled after hours, and discuss their modus operandi with the rest of the team. They may also be required to document the details, and actions taken, including metrics and any improvement identified. 

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What is it like to be OnCall

As one Redditor, who goes by the moniker “u/National-Opening7755” likes to put it as – “I hate on-call, and I think we should get rid of it.” Oh, how on-call techs would rejoice at the mere thought of bidding farewell to those dreaded on-call duties? But alas, for now, it seems a distant dream, a concept that resides in the realm of wishful thinking. 

Coming back to the topic, we like to believe that there’s no single answer to the question of what it’s like being on-call. Simply put, the answer lies in the eyes of the beholder, or let’s just say, the responder in this case. 

The experience varies greatly from organization to organization and even between teams within the same organization. Therefore, it’s challenging to provide a response that represents every responder’s experience. 

One Redditor recently shared his on-call stress levels captured on his Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 when he was on call. Needless to say, the charts were a constant cascade of spikes throughout his entire on-call duration. The only fleeting respite from the onslaught occurred when he engaged in playful moments with his toddler.

One thing is certain: being on-call entails encountering a mixed bag of alerts, including false positives, actionable and unactionable ones. And if you’re fortunate, you may also encounter a few major incidents in your on-call tenure. 

After all, who doesn’t enjoy a little adrenaline rush from time to time? 😉 And for what it’s worth, these on-call experiences will leave you with some good fodder to share during those small-talk moments. Imagine impressing that company you’re hoping to interview with as you regale them with tales of your on-call adventures.  

How are Holidays, PTOs, Long Weekends Handled for On-Call Techs

Here at OnPage, we believe in keeping things simple for our on-call superheroes. When it comes to holidays, we let team members opt into on-call duties and schedule themselves on rotations. The opt-in process is fair and balanced, ensuring that every staff member gets an equal number of days off from on-call responsibilities in a calendar year. 

We also practice what we preach. By utilizing OnPage, our on-call tech teams can fully enjoy their holidays without the constant need to monitor systems. They can kick back, relax, and make the most out of their well-deserved time off. And the best part? If there happens to be a critical incident, they can rest assured that it will be reliably delivered to their phones in a way that will undoubtedly grab their attention, even when they’re fast asleep.

Now, you might be thinking, “Does it really make that much of a difference?” Well, let us tell you, we’ve witnessed far too many examples of IT technicians experiencing anxiety from the fear of missing out on alerts. And, that’s why we’re committed to providing a solution that ensures peace of mind for our on-call staff, allowing them to fully enjoy their holidays without any nagging worries.

Broadly speaking, the handling of holidays, paid time off (PTO), and long weekends for on-call staff typically varies based on the policies and practices of the organization. However, here are some common approaches and considerations that’ll make being on-call manageable. 

Rotation Schedule: Many organizations implement a rotation schedule where on-call duties are distributed among team members. In such cases, the schedule is typically designed to ensure fair distribution of on-call responsibilities, including holidays, PTOs, and long weekends. The rotation may include provisions to accommodate time off for staff members during these periods.

Time Off Requests: On-call staff members are allowed to request time off, including holidays, PTOs, and long weekends, like any other employee. However, the approval of time off requests may depend on factors such as the team’s size, workload, and availability of backup or additional resources. It is important for organizations to strike a balance between granting time off and ensuring adequate coverage for on-call duties.

Backup and Handover: In situations where an on-call staff member has time off, organizations typically rely on backup arrangements. A designated backup person or team may be assigned to handle on-call responsibilities during the absence of the regular on-call staff. Proper handover procedures and documentation are essential to ensure a smooth transition and efficient handling of incidents during the absence.

Clear Communication and Expectations: It is vital for organizations to establish clear communication channels and expectations regarding on-call duties and time-off policies. This includes providing advance notice of on-call schedules, outlining procedures for requesting time off, and ensuring that staff members are aware of any specific guidelines or requirements during holidays or long weekends.

It’s important to note that the handling of holidays, PTOs, and long weekends for on-call staff may vary from organization to organization. It is best to consult the specific policies and practices of your organization or clarify with your employer for precise details on how these situations are managed within your particular context. That brings us to the next question – are you compensated for being on call? Let’s find out in the following section.

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Are you compensated for being on call?

Some organizations offer additional compensation or incentives for on-call staff who work during holidays, PTOs, or long weekends. This can include different compensation models, such as extra pay, time-off credits, or other incentives, as a way to acknowledge the extra commitment and availability required during these periods.

While there’s no definitive answer to how on-call compensation should be calculated, we came across a suggestion on Reddit that represents a common practice among many IT organizations today. The Redditor suggests carrying out the following steps to establish a flat-fee structure for on-call compensation.

Step 1: Conduct a monthly or quarterly review to determine the total hours spent addressing on-call issues.

Step 2: Divide the total number of hours by the number of on-call employees to determine the average on-call duration for each employee.

Step 3: Multiply this number by the median hourly wage paid to your employees.

Step 4: Multiply the result by 1.5 to account for overtime pay.

Step 5: Provide this amount as fixed pay for being on call. And for the hours worked beyond the initial 2 hours, pay an hourly rate. This approach ensures that employees are fairly compensated for their on-call duties and encourages their continued attentiveness during the designated period.

With a clear compensation structure in place, organizations can focus on making on-call manageable by implementing various strategies and practices. Let’s find out some easy-to-implement tips to make on-call manageable.

Make on-call manageable by making it non-disruptive

Here are some tips on making on-call manageable:

  1. On-call is not support: Separate on-call responsibilities from regular support tasks. Hire support staff specifically for customer questions and issues, so on-call engineers are not involved unless it’s a major incident.
  2. Automate on-call pings: Set up automated alerts and treat every off-hours ping as a priority problem. Enhance these alerts with an IT alerting solution to avoid running the risk of missed alerts. If an off-hours alert is not a critical issue, adjust the alert or implement better self-healing to minimize future occurrences.
  3. Automate alert fixes: Automate any on-call alert fixes that can be automated. This should be a top priority to reduce manual intervention and allow engineers to focus on more critical tasks.
  4. Improve observability: Increase observability in your system to reduce the time it takes to triage and resolve issues. If it takes a long time to identify and troubleshoot problems, it indicates poor observability, which should be addressed.
  5. Have secondary on-call: Implement a secondary on-call rotation to allow the primary on-call engineer to perform regular tasks or take breaks without significant risk. This prevents engineers from being chained to their computers and reduces burnout. Some IT alerting systems include the capability to escalate alerts to the next on-call staff automatically.
  6. Adjust schedules based on time zones: If your team is geographically distributed, consider adjusting the on-call schedules to minimize off-hours coverage for each engineer. This can help distribute the workload and reduce the burden on individuals.
  7. Handle holidays and PTO: Establish clear guidelines for on-call coverage during holidays, weekends, and PTO. Consider providing time off in lieu for engineers who are called out of hours.
  8. Implement tiered alerts: Differentiate alert levels based on severity and adjust the page threshold during business hours versus non-business hours. This can help reduce the frequency of alerts and prevent unnecessary disruptions.
  9. Conduct post-mortems: Ensure that any production issues or incidents are fully investigated through post-mortems, or post-incident reporting. Document the learnings and share them with the team to prevent similar issues in the future. This helps improve the system and reduces repetitive troubleshooting.
  10. Compensation and opt-in approach: Offer extra pay or compensation for on-call duties to acknowledge the additional workload and stress. Make on-call participation optional and allow engineers to opt in rather than imposing it on them. This helps ensure that individuals are willing to take on the responsibility. 
  11. Carry out on-call reviews: This is especially reasonable in situations where engineers are only on call once every few weeks, which prevents them from recognizing recurring patterns in incidents. It is critical to establish a routine review where all team members are present because it allows engineers to recognize and discuss recurring issues in the larger context of digital operations and prioritize permanent fixes. 


On-call responsibilities play a vital role in maintaining uninterrupted services and supporting customers around the clock. However, it is crucial to make on-call manageable to prevent burnout and optimize productivity. 

By implementing strategies such as separating on-call duties from regular support tasks, automating alerts and fixes, improving observability, and establishing clear guidelines for holidays and time off, organizations can create a non-disruptive on-call environment and help make on-call manageable. 

Additionally, conducting post-mortems, offering fair compensation, and providing an opt-in approach can further enhance the effectiveness of on-call management. By following these tips, professionals can maintain a healthy work-life balance and deliver exceptional service while fulfilling their on-call duties.

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