The company I work for has a requirement to provide 24/7/365 coverage for many of its products, and it tries to do so with only three people to cover the particular product to which I'm assigned. Up until a few months ago, they were doing it with just two people.

Every other place I've worked has had a minimum of four people to provide round-the-clock coverage, so they can split coverage up into shifts, and no one needs to be woken up to respond to a call.

I'd assumed that the four-person minimum was a sort of IT industry standard, and argued for it at my current position, but is that really the case, or was I just spoiled by the excess people at my previous jobs? Is there any standard way for determining minimum manning based on required coverage?

Some extra detail: The number of calls/tickets we get is very uneven. Sometimes, we'll go a week without getting a fresh ticket, and will focus on other duties. Other times, the calls are nonstop, and I've personally run into situations where I'll get a call just as I fall asleep at night...then get another call as soon as I finish the first one, and I'll be left with zero sleep before the start of work the following day. These calls can usually be handled from home, but sometimes they require a drive back to the office. The argument against the need for extra people usually centers around the quiet periods.

  • Have they expressed a reason why there are only 3 people assigned for this? Is it because they can't find enough employees with the correct know-how? Or is it because they feel they don't need this, so reducing costs? – Migz Mar 31 '16 at 8:06
  • The people in charge of determining the number of open slots feel that 3 are more than enough. – Liesmith Mar 31 '16 at 10:01
  • Are you only required to work if there is a call, or is there regular work to do regardless of calls? The former case would usually be "on-call duty", the latter would just be regular work time (even if you work from home). – sleske Mar 31 '16 at 13:28
  • Does the company care if any of you have to be waken up to take a call? How probable is it going to happen? Are you really in a 24/7 business? – user8365 Mar 31 '16 at 19:31
  • Regardless of whether this is a sound practice, which is debatable but not on-topic here, I'd suggest getting out of there as fast as possible. I can't imagine companies that understaff on this would pay you a competitive salary when you factor in the amount of time you're apparently supposed to be on call in addition to having to come into work during the day. – Lilienthal Apr 1 '16 at 8:16

There is no minimum (or maximum), because that depends on how important it is for the coverage to be available. As usual in life, it's a tradeoff, in this case between:

  • more cost (for staff, training and handover), and
  • higher risk of gaps in coverage

If you really, absolutely must have someone available, then you probably need at least three persons on call in parallel at any given time (so at least six or seven employees) - after all, one might suddenly fall ill (or have an accident) and the other might already be handling a call.

As the other extreme, you can provide coverage with just a single person. However, that means that if that person is unavailable (sudden illness, accident, stuck in traffic, currently handling a different call, too tired to work...) there will be no coverage - that's just how it is.

Your company / your boss must decide where on the scale between these two extremes they want to be. That's a typical decision of resource allocation, and should be handled similarly to other allocation problems.

That said, my personal advice to you: Do not allow yourself to be exploited.

If the company chooses to only assign one or two employees for coverage, they know there will be gaps. That's their choice, which you should accept, but there's no reason for you to (literally) lose sleep over this. If you had to work during the night, just tell your employer you cannot work that day. That is for your and for your employer's protection (from accidents, mistakes etc.), and probably also required due to laws setting maximum work times.


Where I live, you are supposed to work about 230 days a year, around 8 hours a day. Simple maths shows that you need five employees to have someone present all the time, if they need to be present.

You can reduce this if people are paid to be "on call". So someone is at home or anyway reachable by phone, say 16 hours a day, and works when they get a phone call. "Being reachable" is something that the company needs to pay for. For example, you might be at a barbecue and be the only one who can't have a beer, because you are on call; that needs to be paid. Plus you should be paid by the hour of actual work, with a normal working week as the minimum (so if you work 30 hours this week, you should get paid for 40 hours as a full time job, but if you work 60 hours next week, you should get paid for 60).

You could try to come to an agreement where night work (including being woken up) has higher pay, and overtime over 10 hours a day has higher pay, and you should discuss that in extreme cases where you didn't get any sleep, you should be able not to leave home without problems.

  • Our on-call pay is some percentage of our regular pay (3%, I think), paid quarterly. So, if you were on-call for 30 days out of one quarter, you would be paid for 3% of an 8hr/day for 30 days, separate from your normal hourly pay. – Liesmith Mar 31 '16 at 10:04
  • @Liesmith: If the bonus is based on an 8 h day (even though you are on call 16 h / 24 h), then the extra pay per hour is only 1,5 % / 1 % of regular hourly pay. That seems very little. For example, in the German public sector pay scale ("TvÖD"), on-call duty is counted as at least 12.5% working time (i.e.8 h of on-call counts as 15%=1 h or working time). Additionally, if you actually work during on-call times, that time is paid at the full rate. – sleske Mar 31 '16 at 13:22
  • In the private sector the rules are mostly similar. In addition, it is common to pay a minimum amount of time at the full rate for every time you actually had work to do, even if you only had to work for five minutes. – sleske Mar 31 '16 at 13:23
  • 2
    If it's in the USA, I'm surprised it's not TWO people. Not even being sarcastic here. – Old_Lamplighter Mar 31 '16 at 15:41
  • @RichardU it was two people until a few months ago, so each person would have to take turns being "on-call" for 7 days (24hrs/day) at a time, every other week. – Liesmith Mar 31 '16 at 18:06

Well, coming from television broadcasting, this is a VERY old problem in my world.

Assuming by "coverage" you mean someone at the office, sitting at the desk:

  • 1 Employee = 2000 hours per year (assuming 2 weeks' vacation).
  • 1 Calendar year = 8,760 hours.
  • Division says 4.38 employees.
  • 5 employees will handle it, giving you some "slack" for sick days, etc.

You may need a 6th trained person if the role is not quickly replaceable when you have turnover. If you can train someone to support the product in 2 weeks, you can get by with 5. If you need 3 months' training before you'd put them on the support line alone, then you need a 6th trained person.

  • Are there no legally mandated breaks in the US? If you've got your one person on call out having lunch for 30 mins then you've got no one given your supposition. Realistically, I think you need 2 people on call at any one time, to cover, which means minimum 9. – Ben Mar 31 '16 at 20:31
  • @Ben I am inferring that a support function will allow for these breaks. Most US States require 1 30-minute meal period and two 15-minute breaks. In a continuous use operation, you would be correct. This is one of many reasons our industry has moved from single-channel origination to multi-channel origination over the last decade or so. – Wesley Long Mar 31 '16 at 20:41

It is all really company dependent. I have worked places where we rotated among 15 different techs so that you only had to do your 24/7 week once every couple of months, and others were it was me and one other guy and we traded off (then I was part of a company wide down size so it was just him, I hope he survived). Compensation is also variable from a flat $100 a week for on call to a hourly rate based on if the issue was related to a upgrade or a client problem.

Either way if you are up all night with calls your boss should understand coming in late to catch up on some sleep. Even with the most insane boss they have always understood that.

I guess my answer is, no there is no standard that I have encountered. Good Luck!


This depends heavily on how busy the support is. If there needs to be 24/7 support "just in case", then this is likely to be done in the form of an on-call rota, whereby the person "on-call" is free to do their own thing, but may be required to respond to incoming calls if they occur. Typically, there's an "on-call bonus", combined with a rate for out-of-hours work.

If the requirement is more fixed (i.e. there needs to be someone actively doing something 24/7), then it gets more complicated. Typically, a person works 8-hours per day, 5 days per week. 2 people can cover 2/3 of the requirement during the week, but nothing at weekends. 3 people can give you full coverage during the week, and nothing on weekends.

Technically, a second person can fill in the weekend, but in most places, working for 48 hours straight is not something you can compel. At this point, a 4-man rota would usually switch to a 12-hour 4-day-on/4-day-off schedule. This would give you full coverage, and mean that you don't take all of a certain person's weekends, but with a 4-man rota, it doesn't leave a lot of leeway for absences.

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