Management consulting hours
Top-tier strategy consulting firms have a reputation for long hours. In reality, how much a consultant works in a given week varies greatly and depends on a number of factors.
First, we have to distinguish between project time, the time you work on a client engagement, and beach time, the period in-between projects where you work on client proposals, recruiting, or knowledge development projects. The former is usually more intense than beach work.
A typical client project can have you work anywhere between 50 to 80 hours a week. The average is somewhere in the lower 60ies. Some individual weeks or projects can be significantly worse, while only rarely will you see weeks below 60 hours. During beach time you can expect to work between 30 to 60 hours a week, with the average somewhere in the 40ies.
Why do management consultants work so much?
The hours are driven by several factors. Below are some of the most important ones:
Length of the project: Usually, the longer a project the fewer hours you will work per week as critical milestones and meetings are usually spread out more. The opposite is true vice versa. Short projects are more stressful and usually will have you do late nights.
Type of project: A turnaround/ restructuring case, due diligence, or true strategy engagement will have you work much longer than, for example, a pure implementation study.
Leadership attention: High senior leadership attention or multiple partners on the project usually lead to additional hours.
Project management: Experienced project managers with the ability to prioritize and willingness to push back to leadership and client requests can significantly decrease the hours.
Client politics: Clients who have a lot of experience with consultancies or have been consultants themselves as well as hostile client situations drive-up hours.
Management or leadership on the brink of promotion: Close to the promotion, leaders are willing to go the extra mile and ask the team to do the same.
Scope creep: Inflation of the project scope not covered in the proposal and/or insufficient staffing obviously drives long hours as well.
How the hours are spread over the week
In general, you will work most between Monday and Wednesday, the days you are fully present at the client site. During these days you will average between 12 and 14 hours. Thursday is the cooldown day. You will travel home in the evening and in most cases won’t work after you have arrived. You average roughly 10 to 12 hours. On Friday, the so-called home office day, you will average between 6 and 10 hours.
However, no week is the same. Weeks before important milestones are usually more intense.
Consultants also travel a lot
Lastly, do not forget to add travel time at least twice a week to your total work time. You can work during travel (e.g., airport lounge, during the flight, etc.), however, in general, this will be less efficient. Additionally, you are not able to work on anything visual in public to protect client confidentiality.
How can you manage the long hours in McKinsey and others?
Personal responsibility and 80/20
Generally, you should quickly learn to evaluate the importance of different to-dos and prioritize to improve the client answer and your lifestyle simultaneously. Also, make sure to push back to client and leadership requests every now and then.
Push towards a better lifestyle
In general, I have experienced a decrease in the overall hours worked overtime. There is, at least in the top firms, a definite push to improve lifestyle with several programs and rules being introduced. Also, in new hire consultants, I see an increasing demand for a better work-life balance.
Have a look at this article, where we describe how MBB consultants manage their lifestyle.
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Florian spent 5 years with McKinsey as a senior consultant. He is an experienced consulting interviewer and problem-solving coach, having interviewed 100s of candidates in real and mock interviews. He started StrategyCase.com with the goal to make McKinsey more accessible for top-talent, using tailored and up-to-date know-how about its recruiting.