SUMMARY: UNIX Offhour Support

From: Mariela Esser-Jaime (
Date: Thu Nov 07 1996 - 18:38:38 CST

Thank you all for your responses.

My original message requested information about experiences
with offhour support (employer's expectations, and compensation).

Obviously, there is not one right answer (except that offhour
support seems to work better, and there is less recentment when
the employee feels s/he is being adequately compensated).

Each company tailors their Offhour Support system based on their
needs, so I will make some general statements, and then forward
some of the messages I received.

All offhour support groups (with more than one member) operate
on a weekly rotation basis.

Hours covered are 7x24, with a couple of exceptions that provide
Offhour support only from 6pm to 9pm on weekdays, and 9am to 5pm
on weekends.

Support personnel carry beepers, and cellular phones. In some cases
the on-call person gets a laptop. Some others have dial-in capability
from home.

Response time varies, but the most common ones are 1hr and 4hr
response time.

About 35% of the respondents said they do not get any additional
compensation for offhour support. Something I noticed
about this category of responses was that the number of people
in the support group was very small (mostly one person); the largest
group in this category had 3 people in the offhour support

A few people stated that Offhour support comes with the territory
(i.e., being UNIX Systems Administrators). They ALSO said that
because Offhour support is part of the job, you need to calculate
the time you will providing support at the time you negotiate
your salary.

The rest of the responses came from people who belong to (or know
of someone who belongs to) Offhour support groups comprised of 5 to
10 individuals. The compensation in these groups was one of:

- A day off.
- Comp time + yearly bonus.
- Straight time pay for hours worked (with a minimum of 4hrs).
- .1/hr pay for every hour on call + 4hr minimum pay if called in.
- 1hr pay for every 4hrs on call + straight time for hours worked.
- 1hr pay for every 8hrs on call + straight time for hours worked.
- $100 per week to carry page + straight time for hours worked.
- $100 per day ($700 per week on call).
- $250 - $750 per week depending on the hours.

Remuneration seems to be the "KEY" issue with those who provide
offhour support.
Just about everyone who is not being compensated has a negative
look towards the program; and the ones that don't, knew better to
take offhour support into consideration at the time they negotiated
their salaries.

I heard of people who actually quit their jobs because of offhour
support, and others who did not participate when the program was
voluntary and they didn't feel the compensation was adequate.

On the other hand, I was told of places where people fight with
each other (in a matter of speak) to be on-call.

What follows below are some of the messages (or parts of) that I
received. Some of you were very open as to how you feel about
doing Offhour Support. I've ommitted the names and companies to
protect the innocent :-)

Thanks again,
Mariela Esser-Jaime
I am on call 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, with beeper. No
additional compensation
it is not fun...
1. each support person will be on call one week, then rotate to the next person.
2. respond only for major crisis, ie downed server, unless the user is
trying to meet deadlines.
3. call back within 1 hr, issue must be attended to in 4 hrs on weekdays, 24
hrs on weekends, use personal judgement.
4. no comp.

1. 24x7 for both of us system's types. Response is
    "get up time + drive time" (typically 45 minutes if we have to
    come in, less if problem can be handled by dialing in from home).

2. No extra compensation. Hours worked is hours worked, whether
    its at 1am or 1pm :-)
This is a subject near and dear to me. I have worked at positions where I
have been beeped on an almost nightly/daily basis, and others were I have
been beeped twice in 3 months. If you are going to go from no off-hour
support to some off-hour support, and you want to keep your support people,
I would suggest that you do build in some sort of compensation. This need
not be in terms of money, other alternatives would be comp-time, or flex
time during on-call days. The cheaper route to go if you are a busy
off-hour shop is to offer some type of comp-time policy. The reason this
would be preferable in a busy shop, as far as management is concerned, is
that the people would usually not be able to take advantage of all of the
comp-days that they accrue. I would warn you though that from the side of
the sysadmin (which I am part of right now) this could backfire in that this
"strategy" would be noticed and the value of the comp-time would be greatly

The usual handling of off-hour support is that it is part of the job. There
is little to no additional compensation, as the salary is based on the fact
that you will be on-call. This is a defacto standard for system

I have never been in a position where I was not the only one on call for
Unix support so my hours are 7x24. I have always made it a policy that if
the employer wanted me to respond to a call within 10-15minutes then they
needed to provide me with a cell phone. From your job title I take it that
there is more than one system administrator, so a request that these people
be available during off hours is not to unreasonable. If there is a need
for any one person to be available for more than one weekend a month then a
cell phone and compensation would be necessary. You must realize that when
on call the person is limited in where they can go, and what they can do,
especially during ski season.
We rotated the on-call pager by the week. I usually had it about 1 of 6 weeks.
We were expected to answer pages ASAP (which usually meant 15-20 minutes).
During On-call weeks, we had to remain within pager accessibility, and be
within a reasonable amount of time away from a dial-in source. Laptops were
available for people on-call.

As for compensation, we were paid 1 hour straight time for each 8 hours of
stand-by, and straight time for work resulting from pages.
There are three of us who do UNIX support.
Two have pagers and celtels, one just celtel.
Expected to answer the calls 24x7 unless we're on vacation.
No remuneration
They get paid for 1 hour for every 4 hours of off-hours
duty, whether they're paged or not. If they get paged, they are paid for
all hours worked for that event. Off hours are 6pm-6am M-F, 24 hours on
Saturday and Sunday.
As a consultant, I offer my clients off-hours support via pager. (I'm
usually in town, and alert them when I'm not.) I don't charge them
unless the pager goes off, then I charge normal rate, 1 hour-minimum.
N members of the staff rotated on-call duties every N weeks.
Being on-call meant that you could be paged via the "hot pager",
which is what you carried for the week you were on-call.
The "hot pager" phone number was only available to group leaders;
group members who felt that they had an emergency on their hands
had to contact their group leader and convince him/her to use
the hot pager's number. (This kept false alarms down to a dull roar.)

The appropriate response depended on the situation; something like
the crash of a major server might require a trip in, unless it
auto-rebooted. Self-inflicted wounds ("I just L1-A'd my workstation")
were usually ignored, as they should be. Most of the time the problems
were things like full filesystems that could be rectified via dialing
in and looking around a bit.

Compensation was a touchy issue. There were those that felt that
system staff should disrupt their personal life in this manner without
extra pay because that's "professional" behavior. My viewpoint is that
"professional" means that I get *paid* for what I do; and if what I
have to do is drive 45 minutes each way at 3 AM to fix some problem,
then I expect to be paid a lot. In the end, the company offered four
hours pay to carry the pager for a week -- even if it never went off --
and made it voluntary. Folks who had to respond to calls got paid for
more than four hours if the time accumulated dealing with the problem
exceeded four hours.
There is a beeper which passwd from System Admin to System Admin.
When you have the beeper you are exected to stay within the range of the beeper.
When called you may attempt to trouble-shoot with the user.
If that fails you are expected to come in. At some point they may give us the
capability to dial in via modem, but I am not holding my breath.

We are not compensated for wearing the beeper, however we can charge the time
worked in the office if we have to come in. We are not allowed to charge
travel time.
Well I am like you the manager so I have to make it work. Period. If
I do it on the weekend depends on how important it is (business wise)
and how many people it effects. I carry a pager 24x7 and I have a PC
at home (with Linux loaded for testing scripts and programs) and
simply dial-in and do what I need to do as long as it is not a
hardware problem. Practically here it is rare anymore, I've got
things running smoothly. ;-) One other note on dial-ins, at a
previous site I used to keep all the Suns and VAXes I managed,
console port on the terminal server so I could even access the
console ( the boot prom) from home as well in case a single user fsck
was needed. It is also handy if there is security or somebody you
trust to go in and press reset if that is necesary but they also make
modem/power devices now-a-days so even that is not difficult. I
commute a minimum of an hour one-way so remote diagnosis is a premium
for me.

I am salary and quite frankly most of my profession is salary
for just this reason. Most professionals can expect this. In my case
however lately they have been paying my overtime (straight time
however) so it's not too bad. They of course are under no obligation
to do this and you should figure your annual salary requirements to
cover for this (this too is also expected of a professional). Another
thing we are looking at is rotations of support (I have 2 other
counterparts at other nearby facilities here in town) where one of us
will standby for all 3 sites on a given weekend. This makes it easier
to stand-down on some weekends and have the freedom to travel and so
fourth. Now I should clarify I am not tied down at home. Certainly I
travel and do things out of range (as I say though this site runs
smoothly) but management is good enough to usually give me a heads up
when major weekend processing will be going on so I can standby.
> 1) Level of support you provide.
> For example, How often are you on call?
> What is expected of you?
        To fix any & all problems that may arise

> How soon do you have to respond to the call? etc.
        ASAP or soon enough so any problem doe NOT negatively impact
        the next day's operations.

> 2) Compensation you receive when you are on-call.

        At best, I get an "Atta Boy!"
This is for a University's main Computation Center, the Systems
group only (ie, 'Hardware' has a 1 hour response time, rotating a beeper
among 3 or 4 staff members).

Our group has 1 person always on call (the Systems Manager). He is
not compensated extra for this. If he is not available, then there are
various others that can be called. Only the Systems Manager *has* to
carry a beeper, the others can if they choose (we have two beepers for
a group of 13..mostly unused).

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