MBB: Time-off/vacation and my partner's perspective on it

leadership MBB vacation
New answer on Mar 05, 2021
10 Answers
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Anonymous A asked on Mar 03, 2021

Hi all,

I am currently interning at MBB. Going forward I am, of course, also considering joining full time after graduation. However, during my internship I always wondered:

Why is it so difficult to talk about time off? Not talking about sabbaticals etc which are more common a couple of years down the road, but really just: vacation. I feel like the word "vacation" is almost forbidden to mention and the partner on my project does not push it either. I get the whole "performance" part, but isn't that a bit from the last century already?

Looking forward to get your perspectives on this.

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Ian
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updated an answer on Mar 03, 2021
MBB | 100% personal interview success rate (8/8) and 95% candidate success rate | Personalized interview prep

Hi there,

This issue exists in consulting, banking, generally in corporate America and East Asia, etc. The "reasons" are grounded in history and a nation's/industry's identity+culture.

It's a problem. It does not breed a productive (or healthy) workforce. But it is a fact.

Now, is it worth worrying about? No. Unfortunately, you're not going to be able to change it (the beast is larger than you). As such, you have two choices:

1) Recognize this, accept it, live with it, and grind it out

2) Recognize this, realize it's not right for you, and find another area to work in.

Option #3 is not an option: i.e. trying to figure out why it is how it is, getting frustrated, trying to fight it, etc.

Hope this makes sense!

==============================================================

P.S. If you're curious about the "why", I have my own thoughts as a bit of a history nerd (cue essay :) )

In terms of countries, the US generally looks down up vacation because it was founded as a capitalistic, meritocractic, "make it on your own" society. When expanding west, you could literally stake your claim on land, and, if you defended it (against the rightful owners to be fair), it was yours.

In East Asia (Japan, S. Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong) as well as Northern Europe, natural resources are scarce (In East Asia this is metals etc., in Northern Europe this is agriculture). As such, you have to work A LOT harder to make ends meet. This results in a super hardworking population as compared to a region with warm weather and plentiful natural crops and animals.

In Industry terms, Bankers and Consultants are "hired guns" motivated by high salaries. They are paid to handle high stress (manage lots of money and/or business-critical decisions), face clients frequently, and be on-call. When you think about it, this breeds the need to be "always on". You're getting paid a lot, in a highly visible job, where dropping the ball within short periods of time can cost lots of money. As such, of course it would be frowned upon to step away from the desk!

Hope this helps :)

PPS: Some MBB regions are rougher than others. BCG Australia had a strong focus on sustainability. They did encourage vacations and were very aware of burnout etc.

Different teams/Partners also dramatically change this as well!

(edited)

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Torben
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replied on Mar 03, 2021
Volkswagen Consulting| Your Automotive and Mobility Expert | Inhouse Consulting | China

Hi A,

tough question and maybe there is already some content provided in the forum about this. But let me give it a try anyway:

The point you're making is right. In most consulting firms (not limited to MBB), we still see that the value of work is still measured by time (e.g. the number of hours you put in, being available at 3am in the morning, etc). Of course that is something a bit outdated, but still prevailing in many firms. However, do remind yourself that at the beginning of your career you will be tasked with "repetitive" tasks, for which the old mechanism might still work. The further away you move from repetitive to creative tasks, the less importance should be given to the "time" factor. So please also observe how project leaders, etc are behaving around you. Is it still the same behaviour?

My advice: When deciding which firm to join, try to figure out what your boss/leader (in this case partner) is displaying to you. What leaders say is only half of the equation, what they do is what employees are actually looking at. So if the partner is saying "oh yeah, take all the vacation you need", but he himself is never off, never talks about his vacation then you might want to reconsider joining that firm.

Hope this helps.

Best

Torben

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Clara
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replied on Mar 03, 2021
McKinsey | Awarded professor at Master in Management @ IE | MBA at MIT |+180 students coached | Integrated FIT Guide aut

Hello!

I agree, seems like a taboo!

However, don´t worry. The holidays/vacation are indeed in the contract and do get respected.

Im not gonna lie: sometimes it gets moved arround or cancelled last minute due to engagement changes -which sucks very much- but you get them back later.

So mainly, it´s not a problem of not going to have them, but perhaps having a lot of uncertainty -which is a problem particularly when planning with other people-.

Hope it helps!

Cheers,

Clara

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Ken
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replied on Mar 03, 2021
Ex-McKinsey final round interviewer | Executive Coach

Consulting work is project base where people typically take vacation between projects. It depends on the individual but my sense was that many actually preferred that!

For example, at McKinsey, consultants often took multiple weeks off including the use of purchasing an extra month of vacation which is typically taken when one chose to do so. Taking a day or two during projects is also typical although consultants would be expected to give advance notice, where possible, in case disruptive to the project.

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Antonello
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replied on Mar 03, 2021
McKinsey | MBA professor for consulting interviews

Hi, I confirm you are going to have time for vacations. Most of the offices also leave you the opportunity to sign 80% or 90% contracts to have more time available for vacations

Best
Antonello

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Adi
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replied on Mar 03, 2021
Accenture, Deloitte | Precision Case Prep | Experienced Interviewer & Career Coach | 15 years professional experience

Hey, unfortunately what you experience/observe is fairly common still. But dont suffer it. The company gives you holidays to take, so you are entititled to take them. Manage this well with the project team & client and give enough notice to avoid any last minute surprises.

Broadly, when you work for a consulting firm & specially MBB firm , your work-life balance and well being is in your hands. If you leave it, the company & work will consume you! Have a look at this thread for details on this subject-https://www.preplounge.com/en/consulting-forum/does-work-life-balance-improve-with-time-8445

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Francesco
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replied on Mar 04, 2021
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Hi there,

In consulting, you can normally take time off between projects, but you may get projects one right after the other – in that case, you won’t have any real vacation until you are “on the beach” due to the way projects work (very strict deadlines and very high bar for deliveries).

The main reason why people are usually not keen to talk about vacation is that it may be considered:

  • As a sign of “not working hard” by anyone who is not the partner
  • A way to give the idea that the team can “take it easy” if you are the partner

It also depends on the country and culture, as in some (eg Singapore and the Middle East) you will normally work longer hours than in others (eg Northern Europe).

Hope this helps,

Francesco

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Gaurav
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replied on Mar 05, 2021
Ex-Mckinsey|Certified Career Coach |Placed 500+ candidates at MBB & other consultancies

Hi there,


Work in consulting is project based and people usually take vacation between projects. Nevertheless, vacation and holidays are written in the contract.

Hope it was helpful,
GB

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Denis
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updated an answer on Mar 04, 2021
Ex-Bain 5 yrs | Goldman Sachs Investment Banker NYC | MBA Chicago Booth | Passed > 13 MBB > 20 IB interviews

Hi A,

here my honest unfluffy view on it: whoever wants to be part of MBB needs to perform and basically commit your entire time to the firms. This is the (unspoken) expectation. No matter what partners or recruiting personnel will tell you. Client comes first, your own personal needs second.

Do employees get sabbaticals or vacation? Sure. Is it every time a hastle and more about smart communications and timing? Absolutely. I think many are annoyed about this, for good reasons. Better to be flexible when it comes to vacation. Personally, it was a hastle every single time to get time off for vacation or even MBA prep. At the same time, this is the (unspoken) expectation. It did not bother me because I expected it to be that way and made sure that I was just flexible about timing and length of vacation. And even then always packed my laptop and smartphone expecting calls / emails with "urgent" todos. Did those come in every vacation? No. Still more than enough? Absolutely.

All in all, the job is still very sustainable, however, at its core it is a Client Service Business, with all the upsides (learning curve, salary) and downsides (inflexibility, intransparency). MBB allows you to be very flexible once you have a standing in the firm and picked the handful of partners / directors you want to work with.

Best,
Denis
P.S.: Favorite quote from one of my favorite Bain partners: "Denis, you know, my job always requires me to ask for more, more from you and more from the client, no matter what, I hope you understand." Honest expectation management is key.

(edited)

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Florian
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replied on Mar 04, 2021
#1 rated McKinsey Case and PEI Coach | 5 years at McKinsey | Mentorship Approach | 120+ McK offers in 18 months

Hey there,

Not sure why your experience is like this.

On my first project, the partner in one of our first discussions told me how I should take a vacation over the summer and could even go into a negative vacation balance since I just started (Austrian office, 5 weeks of vacation per year).

Additionally, at McK you can take up to 3 additional months off per year (unpaid) and almost everyone is using this to go on longer trips and world travel (myself included with more than 30-40 countries travelled for leisure while being employed there).

My consulting peers from all firms definitely travel much more and have way more time off than my non-consulting friends.

Usually, you can take 1-2 weeks while on a project (depends on how well you negotiate before kick-off( and basically an unlimited amount in-between projects - the benefit of project work is that no one is missing you once the project is over.

Just stand your ground and take a vacation. No one will take care of you except you for yourself...

Cheers,

Florian

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Ian gave the best answer

Ian

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