On-call schedule – Scheduling in any business is fraught with problems. But when your company deals with emergencies or events that rely on staff being available at short notice, the situation becomes trickier. On-call schedules are a necessary evil for many. But with so many rules, regulations, and problems navigating them, keeping staff happy and customers’ needs met can be troublesome.

But never fear because we’re here to help. In this guide, we will discuss exactly what on-call schedules are, how they can benefit employers and (sometimes) employees, as well as discussing some useful alternatives. Let’s begin.

What Is an On-Call Schedule?

An on-call schedule is a variety of employee scheduling that ensures a business has the right staff available to respond to increased customer demand. This can be anytime, day or night. 

Some companies and industries need on-call schedules to meet their needs. This can be for a for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Making sure that emergency cover is available when necessary.
  • Making sure that the right expertise is always on hand when necessary.
  • Ensuring that sufficient cover is available during periods of expected increases in demand.

How Does On-Call Scheduling Work?

On-call scheduling, sometimes referred to as on-call shifts, is a variety of shift pattern used in businesses where employee work schedules are intentionally unpredictable. Employees who work on-call are expected to be available at any time during their shift, usually with short notice, to carry out their working duties. Depending on the profession, on-call duties may vary from normal working hours. 

Those that are on-call will be expected to attend work whenever they receive the call during their designated hours. This leads to an unpredictability in shift patterns that are rarely found in other types of scheduling.

What Industries Use On-Call Schedules?

On-call scheduling is used in a variety of industries in the modern workplace. Long gone are the days where being “on-call” was the remit of those who deal with emergencies. Nowadays, you are almost as likely to be “on-call” in office and retail-based jobs. Here are just a few of the industries that utilise on-call scheduling in the modern world:

  • The emergency services (police, fire brigade, and NHS).
  • Shops and retail spaces.
  • Call centres and other customer contact roles.
  • IT and software firms who provide support to customers.
  • Utility companies who have a responsibility for infrastructure.
  • Security staff and those who protect property.

on-call schedules

How Are On-Call Schedules Beneficial to Employers?

The benefits to business of on-call scheduling are many and include:

  • Staff and skills available when they are most needed. This is especially important for the emergency services where having the right level of cover is paramount for public safety.
  • Fewer costs and a lower wage bill. Having staff on-call in most industries means that they only work when they attend the workplace. As such, they will only receive pay when the business requires them. This can help reduce wage bills and lower labour costs.
  • Better service reliability. By being able to act quickly to resolve emergencies, situations, and increases in demand, businesses can provide a better product to their customers. 
  • Happier customers. A by-product of a better service is happier customers. For example, if a utility company offers the ability to fix urgent issues any time day or night, it’s likely their customers will have higher satisfaction levels than those who don’t.

How Are On-Call Schedules Beneficial for Employees?

While the benefits to on-call scheduling for employees are less than those of an employer, there are still some worth noting. These include:

  • Better transparency for staff. An on-call schedule allows staff to understand exactly when they are responsible for dealing with emergencies. No more worrying about being called into work unexpectedly. And no more feelings of letting the team down when they cannot attend.
  • Potentially fewer hours at work. On-call staff are not always needed. This can lead to fewer hours in the workplace. For some, this can be beneficial. But, it’s important to note that fewer hours can lead to less pay.

What Are the Negatives of On-Call Scheduling?

On-call scheduling doesn’t work for every employer and employer. Here are some common issues why:

Employees have little notice of when they are to work

One of the main issues with on-call scheduling is that employees get little notice of when their employer needs them to work. They might set aside an entire day preparing to work with no guarantee they’ll actually do so. On top of this, they won’t know if they will receive pay and plans may have to be rearranged suddenly when they are called into work.

On-call scheduling can be inflexible

Flexibility in scheduling is important for both employers and employees. For many workers, it is a huge contributing factor to their happiness in their role. In fact, recent studies have shown that over 30% of employees are likely to leave their current employer if they are unhappy with inflexible work arrangements. On-call scheduling offers little in the way of flexibility and employees who receive the call to work will have to drop everything to attend.

It can increase staff stress

Compared to workers with regular schedules, researchers have found that on-call employees are more likely to experience work-related stress. On top of this, the sudden need to attend work when called can increase work-family conflict.

What are the Alternatives to On-Call Scheduling?

There are many alternatives to on-call schedule, including:

Fixed Scheduling

Fixed scheduling is a type of scheduling where staff rotas are fixed and the hours an employee works are the same every week. This type of scheduling gives workers stability, but its rigid nature can be too inflexible for some.

Rotating Shifts

Rotating shift patterns allow businesses to provide comprehensive cover over lengthy working hours. It can also give workers variation in their working hours, providing them with more flexibility in what they do.

Ad Hoc (or zero hour) Scheduling

Ad hoc scheduling is similar to on-call scheduling in that workers only attend the workplace when required. The crucial difference between the two is that staff on zero-hour contracts cannot be compelled to attend work at the drop of a hat with schedules published in advance.

In Conclusion

On-call schedules are difficult to manage and can lead to unhappy staff. We hope you found this article useful and feel well-armed when dealing with the topic in the future.

Written by Siva

I write & describe the value & benefits delivered by Paperhift's rota planning, staff time tracking, and employee payroll management software. Especially useful for Shift Planners, Rota Managers, Team Admins, and HR Teams 🙂

Illustration by Victoria Chepkasova from Ouch!