Work-Life Balance at McKinsey

Stop drifting and get the life you want

The big-three consulting firms are usually mentioned along with its prestige and intense culture. A day in the life of consultants in these firms would not be easy: wrestling with “key-decision” analysis and dealing with C-level problems for leading companies around the world.

Rumors have it that us consultants barely have time to enjoy ourselves. Does this notion holds true? What is the view of a former consultant, and what advice do I give you to maintain work-life balance in this fast-paced environment? All disclosed below!

Do consultants have social life?

Hi Kim, what do you think about the long-held belief that consultant have no social life?

This is a really interesting question because it depends on your lens of social life.

Many people argue that they’re still doing well with their social life, and most of their opinions are reasonable. They claim that connecting with colleagues after work or spending the weekend to visit clients’ home are their social life. They think reading about the industry and do some extra mystery shopping during the weekend are part of their fun activities. There’s nothing wrong about that.

However, in some people’s mind (I am one of them), that’s not “life”. Life is about completely stepping outside of the consulting world. Visiting friends and families, traveling, playing sports, learning an instrument, volunteering for some social projects… There’s so much out there to interact, to learn, and to experience.

With that said, I still think you can still have work life balance at McKinsey, if you really really want it. Toward the end of my career in consulting, I have more and more life. I tried hard and had a very good plan to make it happen.

Work-life balance at McKinsey truly exists!

So what are your steps for that plan?

There are 2 key elements of this plan.

There are 2 key elements of this plan.

Even though consultants have numerous resources under control (support teams, client, data, PD documents), things can be so messed up unless we know how to make the most of it. You can think of all the resources 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 machine running in sync, the less time and energy your own machine has to work.

One of my rules is never let any machine have any downtime with nothing to do. It takes tremendous planning to nearly get there. And once you can do this so well, you will find a lot of free time to have some life.

The key No.2 is to manage your “life” as you have done with “work”. Make it as efficient and as effective as possible.

Yes, given a tiny and fixed amount of time you have left for life, the better you manage it, the more life you can have. Sleeping till noon on the weekend, not having any meet-up schedule ahead with a favorable timeline doesn’t help.

During my McKinsey’s period, I often make scheduling calls to friends and my family during lunch. I book trips and activities far ahead. I always have a book on my phone so whenever my schedule got broken (e.g: friends coming late for a meetup), I have some productive and fun things to do. I take short naps during travel time to clients’ office. I research and apply the best method to maximize the output of those 4-hour sleeps (breathing cycle, mindfulness, etc.). All of these feel really geeky, but they do maximize the amount of “life” I have.

How to manage human problems?

In the working process, human problem is always the most complicated, how can you manage it?

I hate human. I mean… I hate the human factor in the workplace. It’s full of emotion and irrationalities. If everybody just works and runs like a machine, maybe I would have more “life”. There are many tips out there training you the best practices in professional environment, but all boil down to:
People in the workplace have different motivations that contradicts with ours.

The middle managers on the client side always dislike changes and we consultants always brought changes. This is hard! But one of my very important keys is to understand that: People have more than one motivations.

Maybe the lady manager of the client doesn’t like changes… but she does need to be promoted. I can make her understand that what McKinsey is building here will be the future of the company. The better she involves and understands this new system, the better chance she has to climb the ladder.

Besides motivating people, putting work aside how can you strengthen your relationships with various parties within the firms?

We all want to maintain and build our good relationships even though it is not always easy to do given our busy schedule. However, by following 2 secret keys, you can see how easy it is to strengthen the connections with people.
The first key is paying compliments daily. Everybody likes to receive compliments. Those who don’t just haven’t got good ones yet.

So what makes a compliment “good”?

Well, to make a good compliment, you should fulfill 3 factors: genuine, unique, and specific.
For example, don’t say a girl is pretty. She has heard that million times and maybe she doesn’t 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!

How about the second part of strengthening your relationships in general?

What I have found out after that many years in the field working with people is that: everybody, especially those with superior status, has the desire to share and to mentor. By taking the initiative to invite them a coffee, to ask for advices, to let them coach you …, the connection is greatly strengthened. And the better connections you have, the more you can get coached and so on. It’s a wonderful loop to be in. So, never worry if you have work-life balance at McKinsey!