Consultancies, contingencies : Consulting firms and the Great Resignation

26 January 2023

By Louis Romieu, MSc in Business Strategy & Consulting student at Audencia

          The “Big Quit”, “Tang Ping” (Chinese for “lying flat”), the “Great Reshuffle”, the “Great Resignation”… whichever name it goes by, it started from isolated strikes and social protest, and has grown into an economic trend on an international scale. Since early 2021, workers have been quitting their jobs in droves. In the US alone, over 47 million people resigned in 2021, and the trend has hardly slowed down since. The motives vary from a hostile management and work environment to limited opportunities for career advancement. In the pandemic-era of labor, McKinsey found that 40% of all workers are considering quitting their job in the next three to six months. Retail, trade, leisure, tourism - no sector, big or small, seemed spared. However, as I looked through the list of affected industries, I noticed that consulting was hardly ever named. A sector whose reputation rings echoes of precarious work-life balance, demanding deadlines, and even a high risk of burn-out did not feature in most reports on a phenomenon triggered in part by these very criteria. How come consultancies were so seldom mentioned? To answer this question, I had the opportunity to interview Amaury de la Bouillerie, associate at the consultancy RSM Global, in charge of transformation and development.


              I told Amaury about the subject I had chosen for this article, regarding the impact of the Great Resignation on consulting firms, and most notably on their management techniques and trends. He was intrigued and started digging. Amaury discussed the topic with the head of recruitment of another consultancy: “she told me that the ‘Great Resignation’ was a bit of an exaggeration. She had not noticed a massive quit from consultants, she noticed - and I noticed the same thing in France - that we had had a period in Covid with very few resignations. This wasn’t a time to change jobs, everyone was locked down and the world was quite suspended for a time.” The only reason quits seemed to spike back up was because resignations that were held up by the pandemic took place simultaneously when it subsided. Amaury labelled it a “re-balance”, rather than a tide of discouraged consultants quitting their job. 


              Although consultancies appear not to have been subject to a “Big Quit”, the consultants themselves have been affected by the pandemic just as most other employees have. New trends have started to emerge among office workers: Amaury noticed that many consultants had started to “take a step back”, putting a higher emphasis on the purpose of their task. Not only did the pandemic era underline demand for better working conditions and career opportunities, it also drove a shift in inspirations and expectations that are not limited to simply working online: “nowadays, collaborators demand that firms respect subjects close to their hearts”, Amaury explains, “meaning respect of the environment, well-being within the firm, work-life balance.” Indeed, according to the PwC Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2022, workers are demanding more and more transparency regarding issues such as environmental impacts and diversity from their employers. In short, a big quit happens “when the world changes, when the people change, but the firm doesn’t.”


              However, in these newfound trends lies a perverse pitfall: consultancies that go overboard and attempt to pander to juniors might just be shooting themselves in the foot. Closer to Amaury’s heart, consulting is about “legacy”; the associates train managers, who train seniors, who train juniors. Required skills are passed down, in a cycle of continuous renewal. As such, while new junior consultants tend to ask to work from home more often, granting this right to all may prove counter-productive, and break that precious chain: “to me, it does not seem like a very good way to accustom the young generation to the business world, a world where they have to develop a network that will follow them throughout their professional lives.”


              By removing face-to-face contact, working from home takes away one of the key resources of consulting, which has built client trust, cohesive teams, and a harmonious social environment at work. Amaury compares it to casting out: “Saying to someone ‘you’re not coming here anymore’ to me feels like getting rid of one of the meanings of working as a company.”  Moreover, by adding physical distance between themselves and their teammates, consultants will not make their job easier, and may feel an increased pressure. “In order for setbacks not to be felt by consultants as a trauma, but as a stimulus, they have to be shared and experience teamwork, with inspiring associates”, Amaury explains. “If consulting teams were happy, stayed, and didn’t resign it was because there was inspiration between associates and in management somewhere, meaning consultants were happy to continue on their way.”


              At the end of the interview, Amaury mentioned how his firm managed to adapt to both the new world and the new people: “We worked on these elements a lot during the crisis, to adapt to this changing environment.” In light of his testimony, the Great Resignation appears as the symptom of a trend, not the trend itself. Consultancies must take these new expectations into account, without sacrificing their resources and key strengths to do so.

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