Can You Maintain a Work Life Balance While Carrying a Pager?

November 6, 2007


What’s one of the first things you want to know when interviewing for a new job?  What’s the salary, right?  Of course then you move on to how much of your life will you have to spend at work? 

You need a job to make some income but you also don’t want to work 80 hour weeks to earn that money so you’re relieved to hear it’s the standard 40 hour week.  So what do you do when they bring up the fact that you have to carry a pager, some or all of the time?

The Curse of the Pager
Suddenly your 40 hour week job potentially turned into a 24/7 gig.  With the pager they can find you wherever you are and whenever they want.  How can you plan out a good work/life balance when you could be summoned into the “twilight zone” of work at any time by a beeping pager?

I’m asking these questions because I’m carrying the pager this week and it went off alerting me to a crisis in the middle of the night.  I used to carry it round the clock a few years ago but we’ve switched to an alternating schedule since then.  I can barely handle the intrusion on a periodic basis now and remember back to how miserable I was when that ball and chain was permanently attached to my hip.

Emotional & Social Damage
Even if it doesn’t go off, the pager takes a heavy psychological toll on the person carrying it.  That fact that it “might” go off keeps people from making plans and enjoying their lives.  Sometimes you chance planning something in the evening or on the weekend in hopes you won’t be disturbed but inevitably the pager will scream at you right in the middle of what you’re doing and ruin your plans.

If you want to see someone panic, walk up to their desk, set down the pager, then walk away.  They hate to pick it up but they will so they can chase you down and throw it back to you. Even the word pager or discussion of the pager schedule makes people’s heart race with distress and misery.

Are Pagers Worth the Salary?
Some jobs don’t pay any extra for carrying the pager. Mine doesn’t, it’s expected of me as part of my job description.  So I wonder, is a job that requires a pager a job worth having?  Would you turn down or leave a job if they asked you to carry a pager?


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Ben Edwards, the founder of Money Smart Life, saved up enough to buy a Nintendo back when he was 12 years old. When he used the money to buy shares of Wal-Mart stock instead, he knew he wasn't like the other kids... His addiction to personal finance has paid off for his family and now he's helping you to afford the life that you want. Check him out on the web at Google Plus, Twitter and Facebook.

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12 Responses to Can You Maintain a Work Life Balance While Carrying a Pager?

  • lynn

    Not worth it, I currently have a job where I carry this stupid thing and hate hate hate it,thanks to crappy economy it doesnt look like Im going to be getting away from it any time soon

  • Lazy Man

    I think reading this article broke my head. Thanks for the memories…

  • Jane

    It’s funny we have an afterhour’s scheldule at my job too and I was just having a rant about the our new “scheduler” this morning. In order to “make it easier” on all as he thinks, he has been making more of us work for shorter periods on the weekend instead of a few working more hours. I am of the opinion if I’m going to work some I might as well work all of it.

  • Anitra

    Carrying a pager should be a choice. It may be a choice of forgoing a raise or not taking an otherwise great new job. Some people are willing to sacrifice more of their time in order to get that higher salary.

    Personally, I wouldn’t have a problem taking a job that required occasional pager coverage (1/3 or less of my time outside of work). I’d factor that into my decision to take a job. But I did have a job that suddenly ran out of people willing to volunteer for the 24×7 coverage, and pagers/cell phones were about to be forced on some or all of the employees (no additional compensation offered). I got out before they could hand one to me.

  • Mike

    Carrying a pager isn’t SO bad.

    It used to be when I first started carrying it, but now I try to write programs that automatically fix the things I normally get paged for before the pager goes off. I went from having my pager going off nightly to going off only once or twice a month.

    Of course, I’ve cursed myself by posting this.

  • Ben

    Michael, I know what you mean about the week on call, it’s basically a week you just write off. I used to think the same way about moving up to get away from the pager but I’ve realized that although management may not carry the pager, they still get called when something crashes so technically they’re on call all the time even though they don’t have the pager.

    xjbx, the thing about it is the pager isn’t in my job description. Our job responsibilities are so loosely defined that management can easily slide pager support in there.

    I agree Scott, remote access can be a blessing and a curse. It’s nice when you don’t have to go into the office to take care of something but it sucks when you’re at home but logged in all night.

  • One Frugal Girl

    I feel your pain. I carry a pager every few weeks for my job and I cringe every time it’s handed over to me.

  • Scott Couchenour

    I’ve had a Treo supplied to me by my company for a while now. All was fine. But then I was told I now had internet access and could sync with our exchange server. Although I’m not “on call”, I did notice a hit to my work/life balance – not because of the demands imposed on me by others, but because I now had the opportunity to connect whenever I wanted to.

    It’s one thing to be paged by someone else. It’s another thing to have to wrestle within yourself to set boundaries.

    Just another take on 24/7 connection, for what it’s worth.

  • MoneyNing

    Pagers are not worth it! So aren’t those blackberry or iphones 🙂 However, I have one of those and my life went down the drain.

  • Michael

    As an Oracle DBA, I’m supplied a Palm Treo. We have an on-call rotation of once every 6 weeks, and I don’t get paged on the Treo unless I’m on call, normally. We get paid about $1.50 for every hour we are on-call outside of normal working hours, or 120 hours a week. So, its not too bad.

    That said, the week I am on call is hell. I pretty much just don’t make any plans for anything outside of work that week. My goal is to work up to a management position or some other kind of IT position where my personal life is not affected as much. I feel your pain.

  • xjbx

    You say your job does not pay extra for carrying a pager. Technically mine doesn’t either, but then again I may be getting paid less if pager duty was not included in my job description…


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