Work-life Balance at McKinsey: Perspective of a Consultant

A day in the life of a consultant in McKinsey would not be easy: wrestling with “key-decision” analysis and dealing with C-level problems for organizations worldwide. Such hustle culture comes with the notion that work-life balance is non-existed at McKinsey.

However, work-life balance CAN exist at McKinsey! This article provides facts about the work-life balance at McKinsey, and the view and advice of a former McKinsey consultant on maintaining a work-life balance at the firm. 

What is the work-life balance at McKinsey?

Work-life balance refers to the harmony between personal life and career work. However, the definition of "life" and "work" varies for each individual, resulting in different balancing points. 

For some consultants, "life" means stepping completely outside of the consulting world and engaging in activities such as spending time with friends and family, traveling, playing sports, learning instruments, or volunteering for social projects. 

However, the demanding workload at McKinsey leaves little time for such pursuits. 

McKinsey consultants work at least 60 hours a week

Read more: A Day in the Life of a Management Consultant

At McKinsey, the hustle culture comes with such a heavy workload that some consultants claim they have lost their work-life balance. In fact, at McKinsey, most consultants work 60-80 hours per week. 

When a consultant is under pressure from the project and the manager, that consultant might even have to work 90-100 hours a week. This means, on average, that consultant might only have 4-5 hours per day for “life” (excluding the sleeping hour, which can be only 4-5 hours a day too). 

Compared with an average worker who works 40 hours per week and maintains a good 6-8 hours of sleep daily, a consultant has much less time outside of work.

Furthermore, being a consultant means one might have to think about work even when not at work. In fact, this happens a lot. 

For some consultants, connecting with colleagues after work or spending the weekend visiting clients’ homes is their life. On their day off, they spend time learning about the industry or learning some new skills for work as their leisure activities. 

McKinsey solutions for improving work-life balance

“... we aspire to maintain a work environment that supports, inspires, and respects all of our colleagues, applicants, and clients. It is our expectation that all firm members are able to work in an environment free from harassment and discrimination.” 

McKinsey & Company, Code of Professional Conduct

To help consultants balance the demanding workload, McKinsey has implemented many solutions to improve the quality of life for its consultants. 

McKinsey has a principle of “protected weekend”. This means a consultant does not have to work on the weekend so they can relax and reinvigorate. 

If the partner demands weekend work (this rarely happens), a consultant will be paid for it because, most of the time, those weekend work helps generate a significant profit. If not, their manager will do their best so the work week end on Friday. 

McKinsey also offers consultants lucrative salaries and many benefits as compensation for their contributions. The benefits McKinsey offers are generally more comprehensive and generous than those offered by other firms in the industry. 

Below are some notable benefits (but not limited to) offered by McKinsey.

  • Health Insurance: McKinsey provides comprehensive health insurance plans with broad coverage, which results in employees paying less for better health services. 

  • Retirement Benefits: McKinsey has the reputation of having the best 401(k) plans in the industry that match 100% of the employee's contributions up to 7.5% of a consultant's base and bonus salary.

  • Paid Time Off: McKinsey offers a maximum of 20 weeks for maternity leaves and around three weeks for vacation. The firm also has options for sabbaticals and extended leaves for personal or professional development. 

  • Professional Support: McKinsey invests heavily in training its consultants, with extensive training programs that outmatch the quality of Big Four and Tier 2 firm's training programs.

  • Travel and Expense Policies: McKinsey covers all travel expenses when consultants work onsite at client locations, ensuring its consultants have the most comfortable accommodations available at the site.

  • Non-Monetary Perks: subsidized gym memberships, wellness programs, on-site fitness centers, employee assistance programs, etc.

Read more: McKinsey Salaries & Benefits

Another way McKinsey promotes work-life balance is by fostering a supportive work environment. The firm encourages open communication and collaboration to enhance work efficiency and harmony in the office. 

While it can be argued that these benefits might not entirely address the root causes of employee burnout, many consultants view them as an opportunity cost they are willing to accept due to the professional advantages and prestige associated with working at McKinsey.

However, a consultant cannot solely rely on the firm to achieve work-life balance. One has to do their best to attain their desired balance point, which leads us to the next question.


How can I overcome the heavy work at McKinsey?

Despite all the pressure while working at McKinsey, one may gradually achieve more balanced work-life harmony through diligent effort and planning. There are two key elements to this work-life balance plan.

Work hard and smart to make room for life

You can think of everything around you, including you, as a factory. Your mission is to ensure the highest efficiency and effectiveness of this factory. You are the last machine in the chain, cleaning up all the messes if something goes wrong. So the better you keep all machines running in sync, the less time and energy you have to expend. 

Read more: What Does a Consultant Do?

Being a consultant means you are expected to deal with a heavy workload and numerous resources under control (support teams, clients, data, PD documents, etc.). Unless everything is adequately organized, things can quickly become chaotic. 

By learning how to optimize available resources, you increase work efficiency and decrease the amount of time and pressure on you and your colleagues. By successfully reducing work demands, you create more room for life. 

Congratulations on finishing the first half of the work-life balance plan! The other half is to manage your life diligently, as you have done with work. 

Manage your life diligently

After all the effort you put into planning and working, you successfully created time for life. However, given the circumstance that you are a consultant, you don’t have that much time to spend on leisure activities.

Given the tiny amount of time a consultant has left for life, the better you manage it, the more life you can have. You better have a schedule, and while sleeping is a great way to revitalize, don’t just spend half a day sleeping if you wish to achieve a successful career as a consultant.

For example, a consultant can schedule to call friends and family during lunch hours, read a book during breaks, plan trips and activities well in advance, use travel times to catch up on rest, or learn useful sleeping techniques to maximize the quality of sleep, etc. All of these things when properly organized can maximize the quantity and quality of “life” you can have.

Remember, the advantages you gain as a consultant may outweigh the burdens you may feel. To learn more, check out our Rookie Consultant Playbook for strategies to get rapid promotion and become a superstar consultant. 


How to manage human problems?

The human problem is always the most complicated in the working process, so I decided to give it a dedicated heading in this article. 

Human are full of emotion and irrationality. You might even think that if everybody just worked and ran like a machine under your command, you might have a better “life”. But that’s not how the world works; you better get used to it. We live in a society, where good interactions with people might give you good experiences in life and work. 

Understand people's motivations

There are countless tips available on the best practices in a professional environment, but they all fundamentally boil down to the understanding that People in the workplace have different motivations that contradict ours.

For instance, dealing with a middle manager who dislikes change can be challenging. However, the critical point here is that, by understanding that people usually have multiple motivations, a balance can be struck. Perhaps that manager is resistant to change but also aspires to a promotion. 

Thus, it becomes essential to ensure that the manager understands the potential benefits and future prospects tied to the changes brought about by the consultant's work. Or rather, the better that manager was involved in and understood the new system you are building, the better that manager's chance of climbing the ladder. 

Strengthen your connections with people

Establishing connections with people in the workplace is crucial for several reasons. 

  • These connections foster communication and collaboration, making tasks more efficient and effective. It can provide vital support and guidance, particularly in challenging situations, which can aid professional growth and development.

  • Connections can play a significant role in career progression

  • Good connections also contribute to a positive workplace culture, making you and people around you happier and reducing stress. 

Although maintaining and building good relationships is complex given our busy schedules, it is achievable by following two key strategies.

The first key is practicing the art of giving meaningful compliments daily.

To compliment effectively, three factors should be taken into account: genuine, unique, and specific. A well-intentioned compliment about someone's unique feature or quality can positively affect their day more than a generic compliment ever could. 

For example, if you wish to praise a beautiful girl, don’t just say she is pretty. She might hear that cliché a trillion times and maybe not even believe it anymore. But if you look closer, maybe you will see that she has the most beautiful eyes you have ever seen. Say that! It will totally work better!

Everybody likes to receive compliments - those who do not just have not gotten good ones yet. 

The second key is leveraging the human desire to share knowledge and mentor others. 

Taking the initiative to ask for advice or invite someone for a coffee can lead to a stronger connection. Ultimately, the better the connections formed, the more there is to learn and grow. This forms a wonderful cycle of continuous personal and professional development.


Other useful tips for a better work-life balance

Delegate tasks

The key here is to utilize everything available. Considering that you and everything around you are machines in a factory, you would want to ensure every machine in the chain runs smoothly with no downtime to get the most out of it. 

This might take a while to plan and schedule, but it would save a lot more time and energy later when you are free from the tremendous amount of smaller, less important, yet inevitable tasks. 

Try asking if you know someone who can do a task well. Hiring a housekeeper to do the housework for you can help you save a lot of time. Finding a good assistant to help you with bills, documents, or appointments can also be greatly helpful. 

Just remember to be nice to people, and they will fondly help you.

Have a boundary

Remember, you and your colleagues work as a team of professionals, and it’s OK to rely on your teammates sometimes; you deserve it. Do not take on too many help requests or tasks at once just for perfection; this can make you overworked and reduce your work efficiency. 

Try talking with your direct senior if you think your manager encounters a mismanagement issue and present a proper solution. It’s better to be demanding than irresponsible with your and your colleagues’ work. 

However, those “boundaries” must be carefully conveyed, as people might misunderstand you as lazy or arrogant. That would make you lose a lot of points in their eyes and could even ruin your consulting career.

Enjoy the little things

No matter how pressured work and life can be, if you can find joy in little things, you can still be happy. 

Try to take a walk for a few minutes, make yourself some fine tea or coffee, or maybe plant a flower at your home; those small things can surprisingly ease your mind. Have you ever imagined waking up seeing a beautiful rosemary flower at the window, enjoying a warm cup of tea, and taking a stroll in the park on your day off? 

Get used to it

After all the big talk up there, let's be honest: While all the above methods work out well for me and many others, not everyone can reach their desired work-life balance at McKinsey, sometimes because of sheer bad luck. 

The best, or rather, the only thing left you can do at that point, is to accept the situation. The sooner you accept and find a way to accommodate as long as you are a McKinsey consultant, the less harsh reality will be. 

While this does not solve the situation, it reduces the unrealistic expectations that will inevitably fail. After all, it is better to be unhappy and know the worst; that is when you may be able to find where true happiness lies. 

At MConsultingPrep, we have developed this Rookie Consultant Course, includes six deep-dive videos and two detailed guidebooks to pump up your rookie consulting career. Built from the perspective of a junior consultant, the course understands the ambition to get ahead of the game of high-achieving individuals and sees through the challenges and concerns of newbies.

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