Trying to Curb Burnout for Consulting Staff? The Answer Isn’t Always Work-Life Balance

February 16, 2017, 12:00 PM UTC
Courtesy of Deloitte

In an industry that bills by the hour, few things are more valuable to employees than their time. The 2017 Best Workplaces in Consulting & Professional Services go above the rest to build a supportive environment that ensures staff find their time well-spent.

“Long hours, high client expectations, intense travel schedules—the demands of this field can draw a fine line between burnout and a rewarding career,” said Holly Petroff, executive vice president at Great Place to Work. “The best employers respect the demands their people face and continually look for ways to support them in their work.”

Research suggests the leading companies accomplish this, in part, through effective, engaged management and a healthy dose of camaraderie in the office. As a result, the Best Workplaces have a more dedicated, productive workforce: Among companies on the list, an average of 94% of team members surveyed said they’re willing to give extra to get the job done, while the same share said they’re proud to tell others where they work.

Credible Leaders

One study addressing the “always-on” culture of high-stress jobs concluded that ever-present smartphones were less to blame than old-fashioned bureaucracy. Researchers found that many highly paid professionals didn’t actually mind the volume of their work. Rather, they resented the how much time they spent on unnecessary meetings, emails and additional tasks resulting from ineffective decision-making, project planning and other management decisions.

In other words, focusing on better management may be the best way to support professionals in an “always-on” work environment. The best leaders stand out by listening to employees’ concerns and suggestions for using their work time as efficiently as possible.

As a colleague at the No. 1 Best Workplace Roth Staffing Companies put it, “It goes beyond just words spoken. The company leaders all show that they care about their employees and consistently ask how to make life better at work for us and have implemented many employee-driven benefits.”

People at the winning professional services organizations were also more likely to say their managers involve them in decisions, deliver on promises and have a clear vision for the organization. Our research shows these strengths make a crowded calendar easier for staff to handle.

In It Together

Professional services firms often have a reputation for cutthroat work environments. But our research shows the Best Workplaces don’t match the stereotype. At the winning companies, 96% percent of employees describe their organizations as friendly and a similar share say they make newcomers feel welcome.

“The benefits of a collegial workplace aren’t just social,” Petroff says. “Employees perform better when they enjoy their colleagues and feel they can count on each other.”

Creating a strong, trusting team is easier when people take the time to get to know co-workers. This can require some extra creativity when many team members are on the road or juggling packed schedules. Attorneys at Alston & Bird, for example, can join four or five randomly selected colleagues for lunch, coffee or drinks, which helps build relationships across different parts of the firm. Plante Moran employees at its large Ann Arbor, Michigan office can sign up for an event that facilitates four, 10-minute “speed meetings” between colleagues who don’t usually work together.

As simple as these programs may seem, the resulting relationships help build trust and show that the organization looks out for employees. At Slalom, one team member recalled the outpouring of support following a severe illness in the family, describing it as one of the biggest drivers behind a strong sense of loyalty to the firm. Another employee at the consultancy called out the significance of its “love” culture, saying, “Everyone here is respectful, courteous and it’s seriously the best place I’ve ever worked in over 20 years of employment. They value people first and work hard to do what is right for employees and customers. It’s not just about the bottom line, but making a meaningful mark upon the world—to make it a better place to work and live.”


Tabitha Russell and Teresa Iafolla are Certification Program Manager and Content Manager, respectively, at Great Place to Work, the longtime research partner for Fortune’s annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For and other best workplaces lists, including the Best Workplaces for Consulting & Professional Services.