Finance

Consulting confessions: 6 current and former staffers at Deloitte, PwC, and other top firms detail pandemic burnout

  • Employees at major consulting firms such as Deloitte and PwC are burning out.
  • Many have left their six-figure jobs because of mounting pressures to work 90-plus hours a week.
  • Insider spoke with six current and former consultants who shared what work life is like right now.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Management consultants are burning out, and some are quitting their six-figure jobs because of it.

The pandemic has forced consultants to adjust to a new lifestyle, one that involves no traveling, no face-to-face interactions at client sites, and an unspoken standard of clocking up to 100 hours each week. In response to employees’ symptoms of burnout, such as feeling depleted or being physically or emotionally drained, major consultancies are trying to build a more sustainable work model.

McKinsey, for example, added benefits such as free or discounted therapy. The company also has an employee resource group called Mind Matters that’s adding new mental-health resources for employees. PwC reduced meeting times by 25% and encouraged employees to cancel meetings on Fridays. And Boston Consulting Group has used similar strategies, a spokesperson said, such as cutting down one-hour meetings to 50 minutes.

Insider interviewed six current and former employees at management-consulting firms such as the Big Four and one of the MBB firms (which comprise McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, and Bain) to learn more about how their lives have changed because of the pandemic. These consultants asked to remain anonymous for fear of jeopardizing their careers, but their identities are known and verified by Insider.

Associates and analysts represent the most junior employees at management consultancies, and they’re typically hired right after college or business school. These staffers work alongside senior associates to handle tasks such as analyzing financial statements, conducting market research, and building PowerPoint slides for client presentations. Projects at consulting firms are staffed on a project-by-project basis, which means junior employees often work with multiple teams and different managers throughout the year.

Only one out of the six people we interviewed said they achieved a better work-life balance over the past year. Four consultants we spoke with have quit their jobs in the past three months, and one took a temporary leave. The firms didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

A KPMG spokesperson said consultants worked an average of under 50 hours a week over the past year.

“During the pandemic, we’ve offered our people enhanced benefits including enhanced parental and caregiver support programs, educational support for children and mental health resources, as a result of feedback from ongoing surveys and focus groups,” the spokesperson said.

Here is a selection of the employees’ comments.

Comments from analysts were edited for length and clarity.

‘I started resenting the work I used to love’

“I’d work through dinner or right after dinner until 11 p.m. — and those were the good days. On my bad days, I was working till 2:30 a.m. during the pandemic.”

“I’d have a crazy week where I’d be clocking 80 hours, then I’d immediately book a vacation the next week. Then I kept repeating that routine, and people were okay with it. But I was so tired, and I just felt sick of the cycle.”

“Bonuses really got slashed because of COVID-19. And it wasn’t like I was going to be promoted again for at least another two years because I just got promoted. I just wondered why I was still doing this, because there wasn’t anything that was incentivizing me.”

“Before COVID-19, I was typically handling one client at a time. There weren’t a lot of engagements right at the beginning of the pandemic, so I’d get staffed on a few projects. Then all of a sudden, I’m now balancing a couple of different tasks for too many people, and it just all came crashing down.”

“I didn’t want to let my team down. I didn’t want to say it to someone higher up and tell them that I’m tired from all the workload, because they were also working late at night. I told myself to suck it up and just do the work like everyone else, but it got to a point where I started resenting the work I used to love.”

“My breaking point was probably in November, when I booked over 100 hours one week on a client project. It was my third Friday in a row working past 2 a.m. I skipped a dinner I was supposed to have with my friends. I brought my girlfriend to my parents’ house during one of those weekends, but I couldn’t even spend time with my family on a late Friday night because I was so busy working. I remember thinking it was just ridiculous.”

— A former senior associate at PwC who quit during the pandemic

‘The culture was already like this before the pandemic’

“These issues and culture problems were absolutely already like this before the pandemic. I knew going in that I’d have to work over 40 hours a week, and I was ready for that. But I didn’t know that it was going to be so competitive, that it was going to be so difficult to get staffed on projects, and that it would still be my fault if there weren’t enough projects for everyone to get staffed.”

“If I left after March 2020, I don’t think I would have been able to find a job the way that I did. I have heard from people I know and my friends who work at the Big Four that it’s just absolutely awful right now because they’re working from home, and they are just working really, really long hours.”

— A former management consultant at a Big Four firm who quit a month before the pandemic

‘There was literally a team member leaving every month’

“The workload before the pandemic was pretty manageable. But as soon as COVID-19 hit, working until 2 a.m. just became the new benchmark. People weren’t empathizing with the fact that I was sleep-deprived because they said there’s nothing else that I’d be doing anyway. Then came the layoffs, which created a lot of panic for people to keep working hard because they weren’t sure if they would be in the next round of layoffs.”

“I started getting daily migraines, and I’d pop an Advil every morning to help with the pain. That didn’t work though. My entire body started aching, and my shoulders were pretty hunched from the long workdays. I felt sick to my stomach a couple of times throughout the week.”

“I was getting a lot of gray hairs. I’m only 28 years old.”

“Over Christmas break, the company encouraged people to take a week off. I was pretty burned out at that point, so I did. When I came back, senior managers and other people in my client team said I shouldn’t have taken a vacation. Whenever junior analysts requested time off, people at management meetings would talk about how they don’t deserve to go on leave because it’s not like they’re actually going anywhere during a pandemic anyway.”

Why am I doing this? Why am I doing this? Why am I doing this? I just asked myself every single day until I couldn’t take it anymore and left.”

“At one point, there was literally a team member leaving every month because it was just that bad. I was really happy for the people who left the company, but it was also quite hard because whatever workload they had before leaving would fall on the rest of us.”

“My team started with around 20 people before the pandemic, and we were definitely at single digits by the time I left.”

A former strategy consultant at Deloitte who quit during the pandemic

‘I was, without a doubt, replaceable’

“I’d wake up every day at 6 a.m. to try to bang out whatever I hadn’t finished the day before.”

“When I eliminate the time I’d spend commuting or traveling, my job just never left. I’d wake up, do my job, and go to bed knowing that there’s more to be done. It just never ended.”

Zoom fatigue really wasted my time during the pandemic. All of a sudden, I couldn’t finish work in a nine-hour workday because I’m just sitting through meetings the entire time. That doesn’t actually give me any time to do my work, which is why I end up working till late at night.”

“I eventually realized that my mental health needs to be a priority, but I didn’t necessarily know the steps that I needed to take in order to get to a good place. My burnout, and what that did to my mental health, really took a negative toll.”

“If I don’t hit those metrics then I’d get pushed out the door, or I could get staffed on projects that would make me a little more miserable.”

“I never told my manager that I was burned out because I didn’t want that attention, negativity, or any sort of unintended consequences my way. I know that communication is important, but everyone was dealing with the exact same stuff. I didn’t want to be a wuss while everyone else was also working those same hours.”

“It’s tough to be a consultant during the pandemic because we basically lost every perk that was associated with our job. I love to travel and I love to be interacting with different people, but I didn’t get to do that. Instead, I was just working crazy hours. I know for a fact that the practice made more money as a result of the pandemic, but nobody’s salaries went up either.”

“I was, without a doubt, replaceable. They don’t care.”

— A former advisory associate at PwC who quit during the pandemic

‘There’s no sense of camaraderie’

“I was actually more burned out before the pandemic, and I know I fall into a smaller group of people at the firm who are having a better balance right now. I’m working from my apartment, and I feel like there are less eyes on me. I’m no longer being micromanaged, and I have a little bit more freedom when I’m working from home.”

“I was working up to 90 hours a week about a year ago. Now, my schedule is probably around 40 to 60 hours each week. I know my hours have fallen compared to other people because I was on more active projects last year. I had easier projects moving into the work-from-home setup.”

“But I still have thoughts of leaving by the end of the year because my work ends up being underappreciated from both a pay and team standpoint.”

“I got a raise after working for nearly two years, but it was only a $3,000 bump even though I was working 90 hours every week for almost a year. I feel like the experience they’re leveraging isn’t worth the low pay or how hard people work.”

“There’s no sense of camaraderie at all. Now, it’s nothing more than just work. All the fun is gone.”

— An advisory associate at KPMG

‘I couldn’t afford to have a bad week because I was being reviewed’

“A lot of the perks that you get before the pandemic — like expensing meals, traveling, and vacations with free flights — are what make it tolerable, because the day-to-day job is really hard. COVID-19 or not, it’s hard. I used to be exhausted, but I still thought I’d at least be getting something back.”

“Weekends became a thing of the past. I was working from 8 a.m. to midnight every single day for four months straight, and that included my weekends.”

“I was finding that good performance was rewarded with more work, which made me feel like I couldn’t earn myself a break. I didn’t want to quit my practice because I liked what I was working on — so I went on leave for four months.”

“We have a continuous feedback cycle where you get reviewed every week. I would have a feedback session with my manager every single week. I think what made me burn out was just that when I was feeling burned out, I couldn’t afford to have a bad week because I would be reviewed every week.”

“It really made me question my long-term career, because I was looking at the partners on my team who were also working the same amount of hours with me. Partners were emailing me at 5 a.m., and I could tell that they were only getting like three hours of sleep. I just wondered why I was working toward this kind of life?”

“I felt like I was losing my mind, and I was crying at work. I couldn’t sleep, and I didn’t have the energy to exercise because I was just too tired. They were very supportive when I decided that I just needed to take a leave.”

— A consultant at an MBB firm who took a four-month leave during the pandemic because of burnout

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