Consulting firm XtraAdvice has developed a number of propositions to help professional services firms deal with burnout and stress.
Workplace stress and even burnout is an increasing problem in any industry. According to a study by Deloitte among 1,000 workers, 64% of professionals in highly-skilled jobs said they are frequently stressed, while 77% said they have experienced employee burnout at their current job, with more than half citing more than one occurrence.
In professional services, and in particular among consulting firms, the numbers are even higher. While career perspectives, steep learning curves and work experience in consulting are often excellent, the industry is also well known for long working hours and excessive workload, while many fee-earners also face unrealistic expectations and lack necessary support from managers.
Stef Oud, a partner at XtraAdvice, has been active in the management consulting sector for three decades, including spells as a partner at A.T. Kearney and Deloitte Consulting. During this period, he has seen first-hand the toll of the sector. “On top of excessive hours and time pressure, the industry has a number of career characteristics that add to pressures on fee-earners.”One example he points out is ruthless competition for promotion and top roles, with many firms having an “up or out” career mentality. “There is little room to fail”, says Oud, “and this builds on the pressure. Combined with a lack of autonomy and the demands to sell work from a certain level onwards (often Manager up), consultants find themselves in a web of burden.”
As data on stress and burnouts is hard to capture and not widely shared, detailed insights into the scope of the problem are not readily available. According to Oud, at any given point in time, at least 20% of the consulting workforce is significantly struggling with one of the two.
The effects obviously come with a hefty price tag – it has a massive impact on employers, including non-chargeable hours, costs incurred to replace consultants on running projects, the time spent by those ‘caring’, and the effect it can have on team dynamics. In the case of burnout, costs are further amplified due to the recovery and the reintegration process.
In a bid to curb these costs, Luc Swaab who is also a partner at XtraAdvice, says that key for leaders and human resource officers is to “keep their eyes open” for early signs, which include giveaways such as employees looking exhausted, struggling to concentrate, or being easily offended or continuously annoyed. And once a state of heightened stress is suspected, then “don’t hesitate to act.”
To help consulting firms with strengthening their career policies on the matter, XtraAdvice has designed an offering that addresses and tackles the risk of burn-outs. The firm was established in the summer by ten heavyweights in the consulting and academic industry, who have leveraged their wealth of experience in leadership roles and profound knowledge of people matters to develop the offering.
“Dealing with stress and burnout requires continuous attention on the physical and mental health of the consultant workforce.”
The XtraAdvice proposition comprises an approach to identify burnout risks, pragmatic interventions, and incentives that focus on preventing stress. “Dealing with burnout risks in consulting firms all starts with a genuine interest in people, setting solid but very realistic goals, and above all continuous, dedicated attention for balanced physical and mental health of the workforce,” said Swaab.
One very promising initiative which is gaining a lot of attention is FitCoins, a programme which provides employees with tangible incentives to work and live more healthy. FitCoins encourage healthy living (being more active, exercising and less sitting down) with participants earning rewards that can range from free healthy groceries and free counseling to tickets to sports events or coaching and training.
In the Netherlands, where XtraAdvice is co-based, the firm has now partnered with FitCoins and integrated the scheme into its offering.
Supporting the development of “smart, healthy local communities”, FitCoins are used by large corporates such as BP, IBM and SAP, as well as several mid-size companies. The company was founded in the Netherlands by co-founders with a long track record in sports and well-being, as a response to the dissatisfaction with many of the existing approaches in preventive healthcare in business environments.