Avoiding burnout in management consulting
Today's post is a guest post from Badreddin Edris, a member of the MCN Advisory Board. After completing his PhD at Stanford and working at Bain for the last couple of years, he's familiar with the sustainability of a demanding lifestyle. He writes today about his tips on avoiding burnout in management consulting.
Not feeling guilty - this is related to the point on prioritization: sometimes, whether you're ahead of the client, there is a lull in activity, or you're in between projects (i.e., "on the beach"), you will have very little to do. In instances like these, don't feel bad about unplugging until things pick back up. It's senseless to sit in an office doing nothing just to "look busy"; you will be crunched again soon enough, so enjoy the downtime.
Proactively guarding your calendar - this gets easier as you become more senior and are the one setting timelines and meetings, rather than reacting to them, but proactively blocking off parts of your day to do the things that are most important to you (seeing your family, exercising, working on a hobby, etc.) will be hugely important to making the career manageable. There will always be client fire drills that will occasionally interfere with these plans, but you still need to find a way to consistently carve out time for your personal life.
Vacations - management consulting firms pay well and usually give you a pretty generous vacation policy, as well as other forms of leave (e.g., sabbaticals). Taking these holidays is crucial to keeping your batteries charged and making the job sustainable in the long run.
Alternative internal roles - there are non-client-facing roles within consulting firms that can be done on a temporary or permanent basis, and that are generally a lot less demanding in terms of hours. Here, I'm referring to things like staffing, practice area management, knowledge codification, etc. Taking on a role like this is generally not the fast track to partner as client work is the bread and butter of consulting, but if your value system aligns more with work-life balance rather than absolute career progression, these roles can be a welcomed change for a consultant who likes the industry but wants a more sustainable lifestyle.
- Prioritization - becoming really good at knowing what is high-value work for your firm and client, and orienting your time to only working on those high-leverage efforts, will avoid needless hours spent doing busywork that doesn't contribute much to the answer you're driving towards. This is something that you learn with experience (pattern-matching) and that you have to force yourself to do on a daily basis (ruthlessly prioritization outstanding tasks).
I think Badr hit the nail on the head here; the one strategy I'd add is simply telling your staffing team that you're burned out and need to lay low for a week or two between projects, they're often accommodating of such requests if you're not urgently needed on another project.
Want to see how many hours consultants work? Check out this case study. Interested in learning more about topics such as non-profit fellowships? Check out this post. Lastly, part 5 of our 'Succeeding as a Consultant' series goes over the keys to maintaining a positive frame of mind while working.