What does on call mean? Here’s the full explanation with 10 examples

Have you ever read a job ad and heard the hours described as “on call”. At first glance, “on call” might make it seem like your job is to be on the phone all day, but this is not true. Although, in a way, it is related to your phone.

Today, we’ll be looking at what it means to be “on call”, why this kind of work might be appealing to some people, and why it might not be the kind of work for you.

What does “on call” mean?

“On call” means that even when you’re not at work, you should be available to come into work at any moment.

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What kind of work is “on call”?

There are several industries where you may need to be “on call”. For example, if you work in IT, and you need to repair computers, chances are that when people need you, they need you right away. Being “on call” means that as soon as there is an issue, they can call you up, and you’ll be over there.

In maintenance, if there is a burst gas pipe, people can’t wait for you to be free the next day. This is an issue that needs to be sorted as soon as possible.

And with Emergency Services, when someone breaks a leg, it shouldn’t matter that you’re on a lunch break. You will need to be at the scene as soon as possible.

Why we need people “on call”

Without people who work “on call”, many aspects of our life would be made much more difficult. Things don’t always go wrong between the hours of 9-5. When there is a problem, it doesn’t matter if it’s midday or midnight. If it needs to be sorted, it needs to be sorted.

Imagine if the emergency services only worked from 9-5. Anybody who had an accident on their way home from work would be in a lot of trouble.

Benefits of working “on call”

Are you thinking about getting an “on call” job? There are plenty of great things about them.

Being “on call” can be brilliant pay. Because your services are so essential, people are willing to pay a lot of money to make sure you’re always available.

Generally speaking, people who work “on call” are highly respected; Particularly those who work in emergency services. This is the kind of work that people look up to and admire.

When there is no call, you are being paid to do what you like. You could spend the day writing a book, just as long as you can spring into action when you need to.

Drawbacks of working “on call”

However, this is not to say that working “on call” will always be peaches and roses. You might want to be aware of several disadvantages if you ever decide to work “on call”.

Firstly, going away is much harder. If you always need to be within 10 minutes of your workplace, going for a 2-hour drive isn’t really an option.

Secondly, your phone will always need to be on. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing your book, with your kids, or walking your dog. Your phone needs to be on.

Working on-call can mean leaving important family events to be at work.

10 examples of “on call” in a sentence

“A guide to the psychiatric problems readers are likely to encounter while on call”.

“The on-call psychiatric consultant takes a history and performs a mental status examination and physical examination as described below”.

“Be ON CALL with confidence! Successfully managing on – call situations requires a masterful combination of speed, skill, and knowledge.

“Because of the nature of the various problems that require assessment when on – call, the order of the remaining parts is not uniform.”

“But this is perhaps a deceiving impression, because we are now “on-call” as a nurse or doctor might be, available at a moment’ s notice when young people require our help.”

“If, then, New York banks pay interest on these deposits, they must, of course, use them; and, as they are payable on demand, they must be loaned on call.”

“In a companion case to Armour, the Supreme Court stated that the determination of the commensurability of on – call time involves a fact – specific, case – by – case analysis”.

“The attorney’s on – call role continued to be limited to legal duties”.

“In sum, the judge was well warranted in finding that the discriminants performed on – call Discussion work on a voluntary basis.”

“The Petitioner contends that the hearing officer’ s recommended overruling of the challenges was correct because the stipulation clearly and unambiguously includes on – call employees.”

“On any given day, two teams were designated to be on call, one of which was composed of an entire medicine ward team (its resident, both interns, and senior medical student)

Other types of work

Of course, there are plenty of other working patterns besides “On-Call”.

  • Bank

In a pool of people that the boss can call one when he wants. If you’re not free, they can just call someone else.

  • 9-5

The most common working pattern. Working Monday-Friday 9am until 5pm.

  • Graveyard/Night Shift

Similar hours to the 9-5, only late at night.

  • 996

A popular style of working in countries such as Japan. You work 12 hours a day, from 9am until 9pm, and you work these hours 6 days a week.


Working on call means that you don’t need to be in the office working at set hours. However, it does mean that you will need to come in at a moment’s notice should you be required. This kind of work is most common for people who work in IT, Maintenance, or Emergency Services.

Some people will be drawn to this kind of work. The pay is high. People respect you. And when you haven’t been called, you can do what you want.

However, others would rather avoid it. You’re more limited in how far you can travel. Your phone needs to be on all the time. And you may have to leave events with your friends or family.