3 Steps to Take to Maximize Your Productivity While You're On-Call

If your job requires on-call hours, use these 3 tips to set your boundaries and express your needs.

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Taylor Tobin1.84k

As work schedules become increasingly unpredictable and the “9-to-5” standard feels more and more like a concept from the past, “on-call” work shifts are growing in popularity across numerous industries. When you’re on-call, your company expects you to make yourself available to step in and perform work-related tasks if needed, but you’re not strictly “on the clock”. As a result, the pay scale for on-call work varies from normal shift compensation. On-call hours can feel tricky to navigate, but a few key guidelines will help you maintain your boundaries while still providing necessary support to your company.

1. Set clear boundaries with your company and with yourself.

On-call time can sometimes feel like a lawless no-man’s land for employees, with managers and coworkers sending constant messages and holding a very loose concept of your scheduled hours. That’s why it’s crucial to set your boundaries right from the beginning and make sure that your colleagues know exactly when you’ll be available for on-call work, when you’re signing off, and how best to reach you during that time. If you’re scheduled for an overnight on-call shift, that may mean instructing your coworkers to call you rather than emailing, so you can catch some Zzzs when you’re not actively working on a project. If you find that your colleagues aren’t abiding by the on-call schedule and are pinging you when you’re supposed to be finished with work, feel free to set your phone to “Do Not Disturb”. If you’re lax about your boundaries, your colleagues will likely follow your example, so you owe it to yourself to be strict with your enforcement. 

2. Be proactive about scheduling time off when you can’t be on-call. 

Even if your industry doesn’t require you to report to your workplace during on-call shifts, time spent at home while you’re on-call doesn’t count as “time off." Therefore, it’s crucial for on-call workers to schedule genuine days off for themselves — times when colleagues can’t phone or email them for work-related assistance. If you’re an on-call worker with PTO, take full advantage of your company’s policies, and communicate to your coworkers that you’ll be unplugging during that time. Then, make sure to really stick with that. Be ready and willing to rigorously defend your vacation and personal days!

3. Fully understand your company’s policies about on-call pay and assert yourself if you’re not being fairly compensated.

Pay structures for on-call shifts greatly depend on the rules observed by specific industries. If your on-call position requires you to physically report to your workplace (like medical staff working on-call at a hospital), The Balance says that you must be paid for the time you spend on site. However, if your on-call shift can be performed at home in what employers call “non-restricted conditions," your company can refrain from deeming this time “work hours” and can legally avoid compensating you for them. Nevertheless, The Balance points out that different industries have their own policies about this, and some companies will agree to pay on-call employees even if their shifts don’t happen at an office or place of business. Also, certain states have laws protecting on-call workers, so you’ll want to research the rules set down by your state government to see if and when you’re entitled to on-call compensation. Keep in mind that salaried and exempt workers don’t need to be compensated for on-call availability.

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