The consultant’s clock

When can I leave work? What time do you finish for the day? How long is your work week? These are common questions I get asked and unfortunately there’s no easy answer. Hours can be incredibly varied, which can keep things interesting, but sometimes get in the way of life.

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You do what? Work unpredictable hours

I generally work a 50 hour week. This is very reasonable in consulting and I manage to do this because I have a very good relationship with my team and manager and work efficiently. Recently, my hours have been closer to 70 per week, due to a busy project and looming deadlines.

It’s important to understand there are many factors in the length of any given work day for a graduate management consultant:

  • Your manager – Some are understanding and will want to make sure their team has time to enjoy their life outside of work, some will not. As long as they have interests outside of work, they tend to understand that you have yours too.
  • The engagement – Not all projects were created equal. There will be projects on tight timescales or low budgets that will generally require longer hours in order to see them through.
  • Time of year – There are busy periods toward the end of companies’ financial years (which vary) but also quiet periods in the new year, or when stakeholders are on holiday (summer and school holidays).
  • Your speed of work – When you’re slightly under the weather or have other things on your mind, you may end up staying later in order to deliver the quality work expected.
  • Your time management – Nothing new here, poor time management = less time. Simples.
  • Your ‘life’ budget – Asked if you could finish at 5pm last Friday? Taken a long weekend of leave recently? You may not be able to negotiate more reasonable hours until you’ve invested some time upfront.

As a result of these factors (and others I’ve surely missed) hours in management consulting can be extremely volatile.

So when can I go home?

Generally, I clock-off at around 6:30-7pm. For me, this is reasonable and sustainable – I still have a reasonable amount of time in the evenings for the gym, cooking and relaxing.

How do I know when I can leave the office?

If you have a good relationship with your manager, just ask! The best way to do this is to check if they are waiting for anything from you, or if they need help with anything. If it’s nearing the end of the day, a reasonable manager (who likes you!) will probably tell you to go home. If you haven’t yet built this relationship then a good rule of thumb is to wait to see what time the team leaves each day and go with the flow.

How can I make sure my hours are acceptable to me?

In short – this will not always be possible. You will have to show commitment at times, when the whole team is mucking in and working late to hit a deadline. But outside of these times, it’s important to be transparent about your time and priorities. Make sure your manager knows what is sacred to you – for example, leaving the office at 7pm once a week for a hobby or sporting commitment. As long as you haven’t got something on every weeknight, your manager should find a way to respect these boundaries as far as possible.

In essence, hours are at the mercy of ‘getting the job done’ and can swing on the whim of a senior manager at 7:30pm asking for a completely new piece of work. Generally, time management and good team relationships will enable you to control your hours as much as possible. It’s hard to promise any sort of pattern in hours in management consulting, but the one thing I guarantee is unpredictability.

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