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Should DBAs be Paid Overtime?

For the past several weeks, I have been running a poll on www.bradmcgehee.com, asking visitors if they thought that DBAs should be paid for off-hours work? With 259 votes, its very clear (see the graph below) that most DBAs think they should be paid overtime. Unfortunately, this is usually not the case.


Most DBAs work on a salary, and are paid the same no matter how many hours a week they work, whether it’s 40 hours, or 60 hours. In some cases, employers will offer compensation time (paid time off) to make up for working overtime, and some employers reward DBAs with annual bonuses, but this is more the exception than the rule.

So why don’t most DBAs get paid overtime, even when we can see in the above poll that they want to be paid overtime? Because the organizations that hire them are generally not required to pay them overtime under U.S. Department of Labor regulations. While these regulations don’t specifically mention DBAs by name, it has generally been assumed that these regulations cover DBAs, and since most organizations fall under these federal regulations, there is no incentive for them to offer DBAs overtime pay, although they can if they want to. So until federal labor regulation change, no matter how much we as DBAs want to be paid overtime, it’s not going to happen.

Note: State labor laws are often more restrictive than federal labor laws, and because of this, you may want to check out your state’s labor laws to see how they affect you. If you live in a country other than the U.S., of course this discussion doesn’t specifically apply to you.

On the other hand, while DBAs generally don’t get overtime, they generally are well paid. For example:

  • DBAs earn from U.S. $63,310 to 106,658 per year on average
  • Developers earn from U.S. $58,592 to $85,621 per year on average
  • Network administrators earn from U.S. $47,393 to $77,781 per year on average

The above salary figures were gathered from www.Salary.com in February 2010, and exclude bonuses and benefits. In addition, these figures assume moderately to experienced personnel, for all U.S. locations, company sizes, skill levels, specialty areas, and more. Because of all the many variables, your own salary may not be fairly comparable to the numbers cited above, but they still do indicate that DBAs do make more than most of their IT brethren, which hopefully is some small consolation.

So what if you feel you are being taken advantage of? In other words, what if you work for an organization that doesn’t voluntary offer overtime pay, paid time off compensation, or bonuses, and you often put in more than 40 hours a week? What can you do?

While this is a controversial topic, you might want to consider the following. Over a period of weeks or months, carefully document all of the hours you put in at your job. Summarize the data and politely and professionally present it to your boss, asking what, if any, options are available to either help you to reduce your workload, or for additional compensation for all of your extra hard work. In some cases you may be surprised, and get what you want. In other cases, the manager may fully understand your situation, but may not be able to do anything about it. Or in the worst case scenario, your manager might consider you as a trouble-maker for even bringing up the issue, which could negatively impact your job.

There’s no easy solution to the problem of being taken advantage of. Personally, if I was placed in such a situation, I would first try what I recommended above. If that did not work, then I would quietly start looking for a new job. Of course, I would not do anything rash, like get mad and quit. I would begin to polish my resume, start investigating job openings, and letting my network of friends know that I am looking for new opportunities. Given enough time, and patience, you should expect to find a new job that is not quite so onerous. Of course, if you do find a new job, and are given a  job offer, be sure to negotiate your work hours and compensation up front, as you don’t want to end up with another job that takes advantage of you.

So what do you think? Do you have any opinions on this topic?


Posted by Jason Brimhall on 27 February 2010

Nice summary.  It is never fun to be in a job where you feel taken advantage of.  I like your recommendations.  I do think though that when a dba works excessive hours, there needs to be some sort of additional compensation.

Posted by Steve Jones on 1 March 2010

Great advice, and I tend to agree with it. Once someone is on salary, it becomes easy for a company to take advantage of someone and have them just work more. Supposedly your salary should work out to a fairly high $/hr rate, but that's not always the case.

Posted by Paul Thornett on 4 March 2010

My attitude is quite straight-forward. I am perfectly willing to work overtime, but only in direct proportion to the willingness of the organization I work for to allow me to work undertime.

And you know what? People are taken advantage of only if they're willing to be taken advantage of.

Yes, I know your laws in USA militate heavily in favour of companies. Even here in Australia, we're still largely in the dark ages as compared to many countries in Europe.

Posted by David Griffiths on 4 March 2010

Even here in Canada, where labour laws are a bit more tilted towards the employee, we have rules in some provinces that exempt hi-tech employees from overtime. They can have you work more than 40 hours of work without having to provide any compensation.

My company provides time in lieu if you work on the weekend, but pulling 12-hour days during the week is lost time, and tend to do that 3 or 4 times per year.

Typically, on those weeks when my personal life is busy, I work less, and I hope it all balances out in the end.

Posted by Rob Farley on 5 March 2010

I think it's not entirely clear cut because a DBA can make plenty of overtime for themselves if required. I'd rather pay someone (or be paid) to do a good job, which may take more (or potentially less) than the full-time position. If overtime is paid, then there's little incentive to get things done during the normal day. If there is an incentive to have everything automated so you don't need to be there, even better, right?

(I know this is an ideal, pretend world I'm talking about, but don't you think there's an element of truth?)

Perhaps using a permanent staff member as a DBA is the wrong move...

Posted by P Jones on 5 March 2010

As civil servants we're paid overtime or time in lieu as part of our formal flexi-time that we work. But I don't usually need to work any, as we manage what little downtime we need with a half hour at lunchtime or late Friday afternoon and with clustered servers and various other servers, only a little bit of the business is affected by taking out one server at a time.

Posted by Palle Frederiksen on 5 March 2010

Maybe the root cause is that DBA's a special breed that takes their responsibility very serious ?

I myself have put in many hours in long periods of time - and i am on fixed pay - but i allways try to "make up" by working less hours in other periods

Could be the Danish way of doing things - dunno !

Anyway i'm quite sure the company in average get's what they're entitled to !

Posted by Paul Gibson on 5 March 2010

Federal and state governments needs to stay out of what should be a private negotiation for labor between adults. This is supposed to be a free country and therefore free to work somewhere else if you do not like the transaction. Govt intervention distorts the free market and leads to job losses and U.S. non-competitiveness.

Posted by Craig Ferry on 5 March 2010

One thing some people don't realize is that we are required to work during normal work hours to support developers  and end users.  All of our patching, tuning, upgrading and anything else that requires database downtime must be done in the evening and weekends.  These are things that can not be done during normal work hours.  My normal work week is usually 60 hours due to the extra things that need done.  And our company policy is no comp time is allowed.  Also no overtime.

Posted by Jerry Sommerville on 5 March 2010

My mother once told me, and I think Ann Landers repeated it, that you should teach people how you should be treated.  I have found this to be true in most situations, even on the job.  Although I recommend that you take a low key approach so you don't appear to be overbearing about it, the effort often results in better relations and greater respect for both parties.  Each learn that the other deserves and should recieve our respect.  This in itself is a philosophy we should all try to live by.

Posted by Joel Ewald on 5 March 2010

You are your own advocate.

When you hire in you negotiate your terms. If you feel like you are being taken advantage of then you can re-negotiate or move on. Even talking about it may resolve the issue as they may not understand they are taking advantage of you.

Most people do not actually leave their job due to pay. It is usually due to not being able to work with their boss.

The only one responsible for me.. is me.

Posted by mbricker on 5 March 2010

We are lucky in that we get paid a little extra when we are oncall. This makes up a little for getting paged in he middle of the night. Luckily, some weeks we don't get paged in the middle of the night. If we have to work some amount that is out of the ordinary, we can usually score some comp time at the disgression of our boss (not company policy).

On the other hand, I am only oncall every other week, but since I am the only SQL Server DBA, I sometimes get paged when I am not oncall. It seems to even out though.

Posted by cmickley on 5 March 2010

In my case, I pull double duty, some times of the year I am doing more development work and other times I am doing more dba/sql work, along with reporting.  I do feel I am under paid, and we do not get paid overtime by any means, but we are able to generally take even/up time off for time worked, over normal business hours in the case of issues that come up or planned upgrades or migrations that have to be completed during non-business hours.

Posted by -=JLK=- on 5 March 2010

I'm a salaried employee, I know what I am getting into when I accepted the salary so I work any and all hours required to accomplish the mission.  If I was worried about overtime I take an hourly position.  I've only had one employer who seemed unreasonable in the work demands and I quickly found another job.

Posted by Skywalker on 5 March 2010

I took the advice of my mother.  "You can always quit."  So I did.  And the grass was so much greener on the other side.  Make the job what you want it to be, and if they don't like it, put the pressure on them to fire you.

Posted by Ian Massi on 5 March 2010

As a DBA, I'm being compensated for the value I bring to the organization and that perceived value is reflected by my salary.  I don't want to be an hourly "jobber" and I prefer being treated like a salaried employee.  I have been in jobs where the boss meticulously tracked minutes you logged on issues and I thought it was demeaning.  So I go work for someone else.  Good DBAs are hard to find.  Now I voluntarily work OT when required, but it's not often.  I can take time off to leave early or do things during work hours as required.  Not only all of that, but my boss goes up to bat for his employees to try to get us the biggest bonuses and raises he can.  I feel I'm compensated quite well, but the fact he's trying means a lot to me.

Posted by waquino on 5 March 2010

I used to think that in Latin American, we were alone respect this subject. However the Brad's article present to me a very common situation in our countries regarding the overtime paid subject: We are not. Main difference is (of course) that our salaries are far below the numbers indicated. With a margin of error of 5%, I can easily say that DBA's salary in LatinAmerica is rounding US$19K/year(no taxes included). However we face many of the same situations regarding technology that every DBA face around the world, including IBanking, 24x7 systems, and Disaster Recovery plans. Made no mistake, we know that sometimes in our region the salary could be an economic issue related to several political situations.

The other thing that is unfare, in my opinion, is that many retirement plans are years-based and not TIME-DECLARED based. My point is that when you compare the time serving at the end of 10 years, a regular office worker and a DBA; usually the DBA has served so much more time -including not paid overtime- that the office worker has; but when it comes to the retirement plans we are treated with the same rules (years) and not to mention that office workers usually are paid overtime. If at least our overtimes could serve for pension counting, it could be a good thing.

Posted by aMagnumDBA on 5 March 2010

I think it depends largely on your ability to affect the environment in which you work. If your role as a DBA is more of an operator... performing a specific set of tasks, fairly well defined responsibilities, etc... then yes, non-exempt, hourly pay would be appropriate. In many organizations, however, DBAs take on the responsibility of production gate keeper. We hold the keys to the kingdom. We're the last stop in the change process, defined or not. In such a position, we can dictate when and how change happens, to a degree. We can manage change. In that role, the DBA should be paid more as a manager. In my current company, the base DBA position is a higher pay grade than the basic app developer. Senior/Lead DBAs are treated more as managers than staff. Each DBA works more directly w/ app dev managers and less so w/ app dev staff.

Posted by Bill Nicolich on 5 March 2010

When you're asked to work on a project, ask how much value the requester thinks will be created (man-hours saved, cost savings, etc.). If the requester hasn't done their homework on that, then ask them to do so - so the information can help the company prioritize projects. But then also make note of that value proposition and keep a tally of the value you create over time.

The next time you fix a problem or make an enhancement, do some research and find out how much the problem costs the company over time. Then calculate how much value you create.

The DBA, like a corporate officer, makes choices and carries responsibilities where much is at stake - and so that reinforces their bargaining position.

The DBA's bargaining position is also strengthened on the basis that significant value is derived from leveraging the power of computing and of databases - with the DBA playing a critical role in that.

Often, a DBA can get done in one day what a small army of data entry people would take months to do. So the DBA's marginal productivity is potentially very high.

On the other hand, I think some of the rewards that a DBA would receive are in part shared out to hardware and software vendors who require heavy price tags for all the infrastructure and training needed to allow the DBA to leverage the technology for their productivity.

Posted by RalphWilson on 5 March 2010

There is a flaw in this whole concep, though.

Our noble Congress included a special exemption for IT workers (along with restaurant workers) in the bill that defines the wage laws.  We are specifically exempted from any requirement to pay over-time.  (Thank you, ncle Sam! ;-)

Posted by Tom Powell on 5 March 2010

I think everyone should be paid overtime.  It seems a more honest system.  As a consultant I "settle up" with my employer every two weeks.  If they want me to work 50+ hours a week they pay for it.  I don't agree for "about 40" and then get bitter because for the last three years they've worked me like a rented mule.  

There are obviously issues of integrity, milking the clock is wrong for anybody, salaried people too.  My contention is that that should be handled as a separate issue.

I realize hourly is uncomfortable for some but I think overall it is the fairest system.

Posted by Mad Hacker on 5 March 2010

What a touchy subject.

My wife is a Human Resources Manager and I’ve had this conversation with her several times.  The way that she explained it is that a typical salary is calculated based on a standard work year of 2,080 hours and that Salaried Exempt employees are expected to work an occasional/reasonable amount of overtime for their salary.  However, Salaried Exempt employees are also supposed to receive some intangible benefits such as not being docked for a partial day when leaving work early or arriving late due to a personal or family illness.  This is where many employers attempt to have their cake and eat it to.  It’s all supposed to be about a “spirit” of cooperation and fair play between management and labor.  Unfortunately the words/terms “spirit” and “fair play” are not clearly defined and this leaves wiggle room for both sides when it comes to a dispute.

I don’t mind voluntarily putting in several extra hours a week, particularly when I’m doing something to better my skill set.  I work for a public school system and have been paid for overtime in the past, but a moratorium has been placed on all paid overtime due to a current financial crisis.  Although I still work some minimal overtime on a voluntary basis, I’ve made it a habit of leaving early on Friday afternoons unless there is some sort of crisis situation that needs my attention.  I never ask to leave early, but instead tell the boss that I’m leaving early.  If he had a problem with it, he would have let me know by now.  Sometimes it’s easier to tell your boss than to ask him (or her).

In closing, I will say that if I had a vested interest in some valuable data or software product(s), I would make it a personal priority to make certain that the individual(s) that I entrusted for the security and well being of such entities were kept content and well compensated in their positions.  I just can’t see unnecessarily risking my livelihood by nickling and diming someone in order to save a buck…

Posted by mark.hammond on 5 March 2010

One of my favorite cartoons from years ago shows two guys sitting at a bar.  One guy's cell phone keeps ringing, but the guy just ignores it.  The other guy asks why the one won't acknowledge the call.  The one with the phone says "My company pays me $5 extra an hour to be on call.  They'll have to cough up a lot more than that for me to be on answer!"

Posted by drbabovic on 5 March 2010

In the job where DBAs were paid for overtime it happened only in case of emergencies. The environment was more stable, because we had to justify the hours and present the permanent solution (or somebody else had to do it depending of a situation).

On the other hand, if working on the emergency was "part of the job" everyone just wanted to make the pager quiet with no more time invested in the issue (nobody would pay for it.) These companies end up having more staff, higher cost, and heavy attrition compared to those that treat employees fairly.

I'm extremely lucky at the moment to work in very motivating and flexible environment, where I have no problem adding more hours without feeling bullied. But I find it an anomaly, and I enjoy it while it lasts.

Posted by daniel.clamage on 5 March 2010

Just remember: If the grass looks greener on the other side, it's probably because there's more BS!

Posted by David.Poole on 5 March 2010

Its a case of give and take on both sides.  

One of the principles of agile development is that you must be capable of working at the same pace indefinitely which precludes excessive hours.

Money is nice but genuine appreciation goes a long way.  Or at least the occassional breakfast.

Posted by rcassis on 5 March 2010

Contract.  Get a good hourly rate and don't be scared of the "instability".  

Posted by WayneS on 5 March 2010

I generally think of overtime as the normal 1.5 x hourly rate. At the pay level that most DBAs work, I would be content with just getting paid straight pay for the extra hours that I work.

Posted by Brad M. McGehee on 5 March 2010

Thanks for all the thoughtful contributions to my blog post. It certainly is a topic of wide interest.

Posted by mnwcsult on 8 March 2010

This is one of those all over the place debate points. I worked for the federal government as a computer specialist from 1980-1983. I was not eligible for overtime and did recieve something called comp time. Although I actually never used it due to being at work all the time.

My thoughts lean toward accept your fate, as you did not take the position not knowing the score. DBA's, software engineers, and other related positions are salaried. Always have been.

On the other hand salaried employees typical make much more than their 8-5 counter parts.

The distinction between appreciation and money are very different things, at my current firm, long hours translate into large bonuses.

The effort was noted, as for being taken advantage of again if you sign the contract and it stipulates "salaried" then you know what you are in for.

Also one thing to remember, when you are not very busy cut your day short as you are salaried and are going to make "x" no matter the number of hours worked. Most of us don't seem to understand that.

I don't really see this government interference and it was agreeded upon by unions years ago.

My two cents.

Posted by don_goodman on 8 March 2010

It is easy to ensure you work no more than 40 hours.

You must work efficiently. If you plan well, automate everything and service your requests quickly and efficiently, you will not have to work more than 40 hours.

If you are disorganized, unplanned and anal about the nature of the code you write then you will always be behind.

When all of that is true and the boss adds work to push you over 40 hours count them to 43.5. Count the weeks. When it becomes a consisten pattern produce the federal case law defining the required payment of overtime for salaried workers when that overtime is a requirement of the job. Take that information to your boss and present him/her with a choice. 1) pay me overtime, 2) stop overloading me beyond 40 hours, 3) put me on an hourly rate instead of salary, 4) face a legal complaint with the state and federal authorities responsible for employment laws and show him/her the case law.

Employers do NOT have the right to steal your labor. Your agreement with them is to work 40 and get a salary for that. If you let them cheat you by lowering the equivalent hourly rate (100K/2080 is greater hourly rate than 100K/2600) then you are devaluing the work of every other DBA and helping them cheat you.

I always manage to handle this without confrontation but I'm also ready to confront any employer that acts like a thief.

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