IT Employment

HR Policies for tech work after hours


I responded to a post from Toni Bowers on Tech Republic about worker productivity the other day.  In doing so I got a little long-winded and animated in my comments.  In fact, it migrated into a rant about HR policies not accomodating the need for IT people to do tech work after hours.  I wrote:

As the IT Manager with a lot of evening and weekend work, I once tried to make a case for flex time or comp time with a previous employer and got thrown out of the HR Manager's office.  The HR Manager said, "We don't use those phrases around here. If you work more than 40 hours in a week then you need to work something out with your supervisor to take some time off the following week."

What a joke. I can't do some of my work during regular work hours because if I took down the server to do an update nobody could do their work. So I have to sit around during the regular work hours waiting for the employees to go home so I can do my work. What a waste of time and loss of productivity.

And what about all those late night remote desktop sessions from home to fix some problem on a user workstation that I can't touch during regular business hours? Remote Desktop has made my job easier because I can work from home now to install patches, check logs and monitor disk usage or do just about anything else a network administrator has to do.

Unfortunately, the ability of a tech guy to work from home has also made it so that I work more hours than I would if I only worked out of the office.  I don't think HR policies have kept up with the change in the way IT people work these days.  It has been my experience that most small business HR people are stuck in the mentality that you are on-site and form their compensation policies accordingly.

I'll rant about one more thing before I turn it loose for your comments.  What should the compensation policy be for the IT guy who goes on vacation but is still on call, specifically because he is the only IT guy?  I have gone on vacation using my accrued vacation hours and spent many hours fielding help desk phone calls forwarded to my cell phone.  I've even done remote desktop sessions from the hotel in the evening using the laptop to work on a server or user workstation.

What do you think?  Am I being a baby about the hours I spend working evenings, weekends or even on my vacation?  Most IT guys are paid pretty well and the nice salary should cover the grief of a few extra hours here and there, right?

19 comments
pj467
pj467

I agree with Philfee in the Try this little gem reply, but in my case I let the know that if they do not want the HR server to come down in the middle of the day then flex or comp time is in order. It is amazing how quickly policies can change. As for taking calls on weekends and on vacation I DO NOT do it. That is the reason that I have backup, my manager has my phone number in case of real emergencies, and with a simple forward rule any down server emails are forwarded on to my smartphone.

tchase
tchase

Has anyone read the labor laws? What makes you qualified for exempt status? I did some research and found that my department of two, me being the supervisor and not making a certain amount should be paid by the hour so I made my company change my status. I would prefer being exempt but I was putting in way too many hours without ANY compensation, not even a good word.

PG123
PG123

Everyone seems to have forgotten that the reason salaried positions were created in the first place is so that the people who were expected to work those really long hours when needed, would also be able to leave early when things were slow. The idea was so that they would not be tied to the time clock and the hours would balance themselves out. It is now practically unheard of for a salaried employee to leave early just because it is a slow day, nevermind that he/she worked a 17 hour day last week. I used to work for a company that would give us comp time if we worked excessive overtime (normal overtime was of course expected). I now work for a company that has the mentality that a salaried employee needs to be here around the clock and there is no form of comp time for anything. They recently decided that there needs to be an IT person here every holiday - even though we are part of administration and we have holidays off, we have employees that do work on those days so we have to be here to put out fires. They originally told us that we would get no compensation for this. I fought against this (by myself, even though the rest of the team felt the same way I did) and now they are at least giving us a comp day of our choice to take when we want. My point is, SPEAK UP, sometimes it makes a difference. We all have the responsibility to let our employers know when they are taking an unfair advantage of us. If you present a lucid argument in a professional way, you might get listened to.

exnav29
exnav29

I hear you and remember those painful times in my life. Being in IT is not like any other profession in an organization. We are expected to troubleshoot at any and all times. I cannot tell you how many times I was stopped either in the hall, at lunch, on a Saturday, or on vacation (for the very few times I was able to take a vacation) for an issue at work. The issue that I saw was IT is expected to be ready and available all the time. We are in a profession where we do have server upgrades or application upgrades that can only be performed at night or on the weekend. Also, we have no idea of when there will be a problem on the network that will require our immediate attention. So we can end up in a situation of being in the office all day fielding support issues and then waving goodnight to everyone as they go home at 5:00pm knowing that we will be lucky if we can get out of the door before midnight. Gone are the days of the overstuffed IT departments when we had day crews and night crews. With businesses having acquired the ???do more with less??? mentality we have found IT departments decimated with only a handful of personnel to handle computer issues. Businesses realize the amount of hours that an IT Professional is capable of doing. This is why most of the jobs out there hire us on as salaried or exempt status employees; because if we were paid by the hour the IT Department would take a much larger share of the company???s payroll budget. This practice has been furthered authorized by some state laws as well; where they have special provisions that designate IT workers to be labeled as exempt employees. Who is to blame for this? Perhaps IT Management? No, not really, they are in place to ensure that the computer systems and other IT evolutions continue to run smoothly and effectively. Human Resources, no not them either. They are in place to see that the company???s rules and regulations are being followed; at least to the extent of alleviating any legal action. Perhaps, the Executive Level offices can be blamed? No, they are only doing what they have been mandated to do; which is to ensure that the bottom line stays profitable. The only person left would be ourselves to blame then. We tolerate the late night calls, calls while on vacation, calls on the weekend, the countless reconfigurations that are asked for at the oddest of times. Now you may say ???Now hold on, we have to answer these calls and make sure that we do the jobs whenever and wherever, or we risk losing our jobs???. And you would be very correct. But at the same time we are not indentured servants to the company. We do not have to remain with a company that treats us like this. It is our choice to do this. And if we choose to then we need to be quiet and continue on. Now some possible solutions; if you have more than just one person in IT. Perhaps you all can work out a rotating shift of who is to be on call. This would require cross-training of course but it something that can be done. If you are able to convince the powers that be to hire a temp worker to fill in for you when you go on vacation that would be great. But keep in mind that you will have to do a lot of extensive training with the person. And keep in mind that you may still receive a lot of calls from your relief while you are away. For the days that you know that you will have either stay really late after work or will have to work over the weekend for a scheduled evolution, perhaps you can take a half day off and return to the office later. One thing I did was to promulgate a policy for when to call the IT person after normal working hours. It designated what constituted a valid call and established times for response. I had to push the policy through the company but in the end it was accepted and signed off on. I did notice a drop in non-emergency calls, they did not go away totally but they did drop off a little. In the end though I realized that I did not want to have the hours that I did; so I picked up and went out on my own, now I conduct IT Consulting. I like the hours much more and the workload is a lot more manageable. So, you can see that in the end I decided to get out. It took me almost 15 years to finally realize that I was in the wrong job for me.

ryoung
ryoung

I see your point I'm in the exact same postion Small local govt department...only IT support they have, and regular after hours support, but hey that is the nature of the job. I normally log the extra hours I work and add them to my time sheet as "Time In Lieu" that I can take at a latter stage or get paid out for when I leave. If I go on Holidays as I did at the end of last year I organised for a 3rd level support organisation to be on call and inform all concerned of the new arrangemnts......People in our positions need to work smarter not harder.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

One or the other. If you're on vacation, someone else should be designated to handle your work until you return. If no one else is trained to, then cross-training on the basics should begin immediately. Use a temp agency if necessary. What would they do if you hit the lottery or got hit by a truck? Calls forwarded to your cell phone? If it's your personal phone, change the number and don't give the new one out. You pay for a phone for your convenience, not the company's. Remote from the hotel? "Gee, I'm sorry, there's not broadband / wireless / analog line here at the Creekside B & B." Better yet, don't take the cell or a laptop along. Your spouse will appreciate it. You're not being a baby about working on your vacation time; you're being a slave. If they wanted you to work 24-7-365, they wouldn't give you the vacation in the first place.

qhartman
qhartman

The way that I have historically handled this is that I have broken my off-hours work into two categories, planned and un-planned. For planned off-hours work, I expect that I should get "comp-time" or whatever you want to call it to compensate. My rationale behind this is that generally speaking, planned off-hours work is work that I would do on-hours if there weren't some other business need that forces it to the off-hours. This allows me to do the things I need to do without allowing the advantage to be held entirely by my employer. The unplanned work I generally do "for free" because, theoretically at least, if I do my job well, there should be little if any unplanned work. If I'm constantly fighting fires and it digs into my non-work time, I'm doing something wrong. Now there are of course cases where this is not true. For example, if you are in a place that grossly under funds IT and you cannot get the hardware or software to make the systems reliable. In that case, the company clearly does not take IT seriously, and one would have more reason than draconian HR policies to be looking for alternative employment. By categorizing my work this way, and having a specific rationale, I've been able to get HR managers I've worked with to come around to my way of thinking. Granted, all of the companies I've worked for have been fairly small so others may not have success with this, but it's a starting point at least. There is an even better policy to have when it comes to IT people though: no policy. So long as the work gets done, "hours logged" are a non-issue. Yes, this is a policy that would be ripe for abuse, but the abusers can be quickly identified and fired in most cases. Those who don't abuse it, tend to work harder and be far more productive because they do not feel "chained to the desk" and can work at times and in places when they are "in the zone". I hopeful that someday my company will adopt this sort of policy. As far as the "sole IT guy working on vacation time", I've definitely been there. The bottom line there, as I see it, is that you need to come up with some sort of understanding with your manager. Either that help you provide during vacation is "best effort" with no guarantees, or that they get on the ball and get some backup hired. If something is so critical that downtime loses the company money, they need to make sure they have enough people to account for vacation coverage or be willing to accept those losses, it's that simple. The entitlement that a lot of employers feel is a problem, and frankly I think it's a symptom of poor management and a poisonous culture. The problem is definitely very real though. For whatever reason, many companies have decided they own IT people and the HR policies have not changed to reflect the nature of IT work. We only have ourselves to blame for allowing that situation to continue though. As another poster pointed out, until we stop working for free, we'll have no leverage to make change.

Canuckster
Canuckster

Boy do I know that feeling! Upgrading a server or service? Only appropriate time is late Saturday night or early Sunday morning. I make a point of taking the next Friday off and get told that, as a salaried employee, I am expected to be at work during office hours. I get told this on my "help desk cell phone" that I must have on 24/7, on the Friday I am absent. All I can do is tell myself that if I don't like it then I should go work somewhere else. Suck it up and move on.

Keith2468w
Keith2468w

Our field has too many people giving away something for nothing. People don't value what they get for free. The difference between a professional and an amateur is that a professional is paid for his work. Of course there is an execption. If your employer is a registered charity. You can then deduct the value as a charitable contribution. Physicans, dentists, lawyers, engineers, are all careful to not work for free.

JamesRL
JamesRL

Our official policy is that the staff member who works OT can chose between payment of OT or comp time - the time to take comp time to be negotiated. In reality we prefer the employee to be paid, because banking comp time becomes troublesome, and if it isn't regularly used, you end up at the end of the year with more than you can use. So, if I have a staff member who can work from home, and I know that saves them an hour commute, I will have them submit Ot for pay, but also give them the option of working from home (these are people I trust to be productive at home) and/or taking some time off that is off the record. I have on occasion, ordered a staff member to take a day, when they had worked excessive OT and were highly stressed. So we have an informal comp time on occasion. If I have a staff take a sick day, but still attend meetings and answer emails, sometimes I won't submit their sick day. My boss is fully aware and supportive of my workarounds. Personally, as a manager I don't get OT or comp time, but my boss is pretty flexible. James James

Philfee
Philfee

My supervisor and I also find ourselves in the same situation from time to time. We are in local govt and are the only IT Support on site. At all times, we try to inform our IT illiterate manager in advance of any out of hours work that needs to be done. If he fails to approved O/T or Time in Lieu for the job, we either down the server in work hours or stage a mini "emergency" to highlight the need for us to perform our duties in a prompt and timely manner. It's amazing how turning off a few services, can gain one's undivided attention.

fun_to_know
fun_to_know

I have been thwe sole IT guy for a multi-state company of 300 users and 60 servers for over 10 years. I DO take long motorcycle vacations (and yes I wear a helmut) and never know where I will be overnighting or have cell phone service and there is no room to carry a laptop soooooo ... IF my employer wants "cvoerage" we hire an outside consultant with limited admin access and a long list of tech support phone numbers to be on standby while I am gone. IF this arrangement is unsatisfactory, then we will wither hire more help or I will find another job. I work long and hard 50 weeks a year and all holidays, I deserve that few couple of stress free days.

kjknutson
kjknutson

I agree and it's something that undermines the case for all IT workers. Those that work the long hours or are always on call. Do they do it to feel more important and indispensible? I think that is a mentality that is common in IT. For me, I go on vacation to places that don't have cell coverage or wi-fi, like the mountains of Vermont or Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. And if the world crashes and burns, then too bad. I was conscientious enough to point out I had no back up and tried to train a few people to cover for me. If they fail, then they fail. Management will then realize they need to put more expertise into the mix to help cover because yes, someday I might get hit by that beer truck and who will do what I do? I'm also careful to put in only the minimun hours per week when I can. If I over stress myself, that leads to sickness and that's bad, too. And try dividing your salary by the acutal hours you work. Do you want to be paid like the kid at Burger King because you put in so many hours?

dmacarthurwork
dmacarthurwork

Our jobs are very dynamic in the sense that we have to accommodate the end user or it makes for a very unhappy company to work for. Striking a balance between getting the work done and keeping the office happy is hard enough. Couple that with HR not playing ball and you get a volatile situation. If it ends up being a problem move on and find something else. When they finally run into staffing issues because of their policies they might figure it out.

NickIII
NickIII

With 20 years experience I have been through most of these experiences and I totally agree with the contributors here. Fortunately I have learnt my lesson a long time ago and I have the policy "I go to work to get paid". My time and health is worth more than a false perception of job security.

RFink
RFink

An ex-coworker of mine had that mind set. If something happened after hours, he'd fix it so it broke during normal hours. It was amazing how many "hardware failures" happened during lunch. Of course we'd apply software upgrades, patches, etc during a failure. He believed in "getting more bang for the reboot." After a while our boss starting giving us comp time. The funny thing was when the company was bought out, I was the one laid off. :(

jstuhlmiller
jstuhlmiller

Your right too many professionals undervalue their time and effort and cause the rest of us grief. I used to do favors for friends and family. I no longer do because I would spend all my time working for free. I no longer tell people I am an IT Manager. I tell them I am a garbage man. No one asks me to pickup their trash. :)

michaeljapostol
michaeljapostol

I am an I.T. Professional and agree that everyone should always be paid no matter when the work is done and NEVER for free. You have it wrong about Doctors if you are also referring to U.S. Doctors. Doctors in the U.S. have screwed themselves. Now, they do a plethora of things for free and not by choice. My Spouse is a Family Doctor and she isn't paid 1/10 of what she should be paid. Doctors had it good 25+ years ago and they let themselves get slowly boiled.

jstuhlmiller
jstuhlmiller

Unfortunately companies dont figure things out until many good people come and go and reitterate the same thing over and over.