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Does the consulting workload lead to qualitative better outcomes?

Dear community,

As far as I understood consulting is a very demanding business, where especially as an entry level consultant many hours will be spent on projects and communication. I am certainly up for this workload mentally, but during my research on consulting I came across an aspect that peaked my interest:

In recommendations and ratings of top-tier consultancies I read in forums and portals (like glassdoor etc.), even consultants who wrote they love their job admitted to wishing for a better work-life balance.

In this regard I wondered whether the quite high amount of work hours per week leads to qualitative better outcomes in terms of solutions for the clients. Or if there are other reasons for this workload in general.

Also, I would like to know whether there has been developments towards more or less work-life-balance over the course of your consulting careers.

I look very much forward to your insights and opinions.
Thank you for your time.
Cornelia

Dear community,

As far as I understood consulting is a very demanding business, where especially as an entry level consultant many hours will be spent on projects and communication. I am certainly up for this workload mentally, but during my research on consulting I came across an aspect that peaked my interest:

In recommendations and ratings of top-tier consultancies I read in forums and portals (like glassdoor etc.), even consultants who wrote they love their job admitted to wishing for a better work-life balance.

In this regard I wondered whether the quite high amount of work hours per week leads to qualitative better outcomes in terms of solutions for the clients. Or if there are other reasons for this workload in general.

Also, I would like to know whether there has been developments towards more or less work-life-balance over the course of your consulting careers.

I look very much forward to your insights and opinions.
Thank you for your time.
Cornelia

4 answers

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Best Answer

Hi Cornelia,

indeed the consulting work is very demanding in terms of working hours. For me, the most important capability is the capability to managing your time! What do I mean with this:

  • Manage expectations
    • Develop a personal action and time plan to which you stick and consult with your manager. Raise any issues instantly if time lines cannot be hold. Don’t tell your manager that you cannot get the job done – propose an alternative!
    • Quality: Check with your manager which level/depth of analysis is required.
  • Rigidly follow the 80/20 rule
    • Get the job done right without overcomplicating it. Don’t go for 100% percent, as it will consume much too much of your valuable time.
  • Outsource tasks
    • Top tier consultancies have employees who do research, write/develop slides or even perform analytical tasks in Excel/Python/MatLab etc. Use their capacity to do your job!
  • Take your freedoms
    • Do non-for profit projects, these tend to be much less stressful and it helps you build rapport with the wider firm
    • Engage in company activities, e.g. recruiting events, sports events etc. as these will also help to reduce your stress level
    • Switch off your phone on weekends (and only check once per day)!
    • Proactively reach out for partners who value a good work-life balance. After all, projects with a terrible work-life balance are usually poorly managed from partner side.

Also, yes, there are developments to improve work-life-balance, e.g. at Oliver Wyman you could work on a 80% role, buy extra holiday month(s) and there is parental leave. A working day itself, however, will always be stressful and the above-mentioned recommendations are vital!

Happy to explain further ;)

Best regards

Hi Cornelia,

indeed the consulting work is very demanding in terms of working hours. For me, the most important capability is the capability to managing your time! What do I mean with this:

  • Manage expectations
    • Develop a personal action and time plan to which you stick and consult with your manager. Raise any issues instantly if time lines cannot be hold. Don’t tell your manager that you cannot get the job done – propose an alternative!
    • Quality: Check with your manager which level/depth of analysis is required.
  • Rigidly follow the 80/20 rule
    • Get the job done right without overcomplicating it. Don’t go for 100% percent, as it will consume much too much of your valuable time.
  • Outsource tasks
    • Top tier consultancies have employees who do research, write/develop slides or even perform analytical tasks in Excel/Python/MatLab etc. Use their capacity to do your job!
  • Take your freedoms
    • Do non-for profit projects, these tend to be much less stressful and it helps you build rapport with the wider firm
    • Engage in company activities, e.g. recruiting events, sports events etc. as these will also help to reduce your stress level
    • Switch off your phone on weekends (and only check once per day)!
    • Proactively reach out for partners who value a good work-life balance. After all, projects with a terrible work-life balance are usually poorly managed from partner side.

Also, yes, there are developments to improve work-life-balance, e.g. at Oliver Wyman you could work on a 80% role, buy extra holiday month(s) and there is parental leave. A working day itself, however, will always be stressful and the above-mentioned recommendations are vital!

Happy to explain further ;)

Best regards

(edited)

Thank you Jakob for your detailed explanation. — Anonymous on May 07, 2019

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You could argue that it leads to qualitatively better outcomes in terms of cost because if a better worklife balance was offered to consultants at the same salary levels the total length of cases and therefore total cost to clients would incease.

You also have to bear in mind that there is a lot of variability in terms of work life balance across different case types, clients, and offices:

Case types - Some case types such as private equity cases tend to have a more demanding work life balance due to case length, client expectations and the fact that these are often billed under frame agreements with the private equity firm.

Client - With clients a consulting firm has worked with for a long time and there is clear expectations there tends to be better work life balance than if its the first case with a client and your firm is trying to make a good impression. In some instances MBB firms even act akin to in house conulting firms and on such cases the work life balance is extremely reasonable in my experience.

Office - In more established offices with longer standing client relationships there tends to be better work-life balance than in new offices trying to build, expand its client base. Offices with higher weighting towards PE will have worse worklife balance on average. For Bain for example US offices are generally known to have better work life balance than offices in continental Europe or Asia.

You could argue that it leads to qualitatively better outcomes in terms of cost because if a better worklife balance was offered to consultants at the same salary levels the total length of cases and therefore total cost to clients would incease.

You also have to bear in mind that there is a lot of variability in terms of work life balance across different case types, clients, and offices:

Case types - Some case types such as private equity cases tend to have a more demanding work life balance due to case length, client expectations and the fact that these are often billed under frame agreements with the private equity firm.

Client - With clients a consulting firm has worked with for a long time and there is clear expectations there tends to be better work life balance than if its the first case with a client and your firm is trying to make a good impression. In some instances MBB firms even act akin to in house conulting firms and on such cases the work life balance is extremely reasonable in my experience.

Office - In more established offices with longer standing client relationships there tends to be better work-life balance than in new offices trying to build, expand its client base. Offices with higher weighting towards PE will have worse worklife balance on average. For Bain for example US offices are generally known to have better work life balance than offices in continental Europe or Asia.

(edited)

Thank you Axel for your insights on how to strategically approach a strive for more balance if desired. — Anonymous on May 07, 2019

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Hi,

I believe that if you make a study you'll find out that it leads to mistakes and significantly worse results on the personal level. But it's important to understand that it's the ONLY way to organize the process for the following reasons:

  • MBB services are expensive and the clients can afford only a limited number of weeks. If you decrease the price - you'll not be able to attract the talent
  • Most of the hours variability comes from internal meetings alignment. On a project you need to work with multiple partners, experts etc and you need to integrate their feedbacks. Partners are serving multiple clients and you have to fit in their schedule. You can not remove experts or partners from the projects and you can not ignore their feedback. Thus you are working at night to implement it

Best

Hi,

I believe that if you make a study you'll find out that it leads to mistakes and significantly worse results on the personal level. But it's important to understand that it's the ONLY way to organize the process for the following reasons:

  • MBB services are expensive and the clients can afford only a limited number of weeks. If you decrease the price - you'll not be able to attract the talent
  • Most of the hours variability comes from internal meetings alignment. On a project you need to work with multiple partners, experts etc and you need to integrate their feedbacks. Partners are serving multiple clients and you have to fit in their schedule. You can not remove experts or partners from the projects and you can not ignore their feedback. Thus you are working at night to implement it

Best

Thank you Vlad for your explanation of reasons for this matter. — Anonymous on May 07, 2019

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Consultancies typically don't charge for a set number of hours, but for a number of days or even a flat fee for the engagement. It is therefore in their interest to make consultants work more hours:

- if flat fee, the harder we work, the faster we'll be done and more engagements we can do in a year

- if man/days, the harder we work, the fewer people need to be staffed and more engagements we can do in a year

Then, it becomes a balance between how hard to push the consulting staff yet not see them burn out and quit.

Consultancies typically don't charge for a set number of hours, but for a number of days or even a flat fee for the engagement. It is therefore in their interest to make consultants work more hours:

- if flat fee, the harder we work, the faster we'll be done and more engagements we can do in a year

- if man/days, the harder we work, the fewer people need to be staffed and more engagements we can do in a year

Then, it becomes a balance between how hard to push the consulting staff yet not see them burn out and quit.

Thank you Guennael for the insight into the pricing at consultancies in general. — Anonymous on May 07, 2019