The culture of always saying “yes” leads to burnout of consultants


Tenfold offers its members, composed primarily of CEOs and senior executives, access to a regular program of roundtables, presentations and virtual meetings by invitation only, where they can discuss leadership challenges and solutions. . Senior consultants from large firms are regularly called upon to present to members.

“Unsustainable” workloads

Ms Matthews said there was a marked reluctance from executives of consulting firms to reject the work, especially when established clients were involved.

“It’s an interesting question as to why the consultants involved don’t say no to work. I think it’s on many levels and the factors can include a systemic cultural cycle, immense motivation and passion for the job, demanding clients and unrealistic deadlines, ”she said.

This means that many consulting leaders are now doing work that they would previously have entrusted to entry-level professionals.

“With demand exceeding supply, I heard examples of senior consultants coming back to pro bono tools and partners [those who do work for non-profit organisations without charging fees] take on extra work for clients, also young consultants and engineers working really long days – a recent example I heard was 5pm, ”she said.

“While I think it’s admirable for senior consultants to go into the trenches with their more junior staff with this situation and not leave them alone, I just hope this current situation doesn’t last too long because it is not sustainable. “

Ruby Otero helps employers improve the psychological health of their workplaces.

According to SafeWork NSW, the requirement for IT consultants and lawyers to work long hours for demanding clients has previously been identified as carrying the same risk of fatigue-related injuries and illnesses as paramedics, nurses and others. shift workers.

The occupational safety watchdog has classified both occupations as high risk for fatigue, after an increase in workers’ compensation claims from professional services staff.

“High performers on conveyor belts”

Consulting firms are typically designed as ‘treadmills’ where staff have limited control over their workloads, while the industry tends to attract success-oriented individuals who are more ‘likely to be successful’. exhausting, ”said Ruby Otero, registered psychologist and founder of an organizational development company. First in mind.

“Staff below a certain level have little control over their workload, while partners and senior managers focus on winning work, which then passes to staff. The [also] tends to be a treadmill system where a good job done is often rewarded with more work, ”she said.

“Those who are high achievers and have a success orientation are often prone to burnout, especially if they don’t have a realistic understanding of themselves or sustainable performance, and don’t have learned healthy ways to deal with stress or take care of themselves. . “

“His [also] ‘up or out’ [in consulting firms], so if you don’t meet expectations, you get by. This means that young consultants think “if I don’t do this, I won’t progress”. They will surpass themselves, often at the cost of themselves and their health … I am not surprised to hear that consultants work 17-hour days to meet deadlines.

Ms. Otero offers one-on-one advice and helps organizations improve the psychological health of their workplaces with clients from all industries including consulting, aviation, defense and healthcare.

She said the prolonged lockdowns in New South Wales and Victoria had only added to the stress not only for the consultants but for anyone working from home instead of the office.

“The point is, we’re social beings – and whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, we’re designed to be social. Even though we don’t like people at work – we hope so, but sometimes we don’t – we still get social value and our social needs by going to work, ”she said.

Other factors, according to Ms. Otero, added to stress levels are “cognitive fatigue ”caused by constant videoconferencing calls, the loss of“ transition time ”between work and home, and parents in confinement juggling work and home schooling.

Rachel Service, managing director and founder of workplace consulting firm Happiness Concierge, agreed that blockages have increased stress levels among white-collar workers.

Rachel Service says the stress of blockages could affect workers’ decision-making ability.

“What we are seeing is a form of continuous low level stress. Symptoms include fatigue, feeling overwhelmed, and feeling inert, distracted or on autopilot. We find that people have low capacity for big decisions, and at the same time, they may also have low capacity for small decisions like what to eat for lunch, ”Ms. Service said.

His firm, which has 11 other consultants, performs cultural reviews, training and coaching for a mix of clients, including financial services companies, public sector agencies, technology companies and universities.

“It is the uncertainty concerning the pandemic and then the loss of autonomy due to confinement. I see clients turning more and more to their leaders for advice. The leaders, the majority of them anyway, don’t know what to do then, ”she said.

The solution to the increased burnout level had to come from the top of the organization, with leaders taking responsibility for managing their staff’s workload and modeling appropriate behaviors, Ms. Service said.

Managers need to be able to identify and respond to overwhelmed team members, she said.

Authorization to “disconnect”

“We say managers should ask their staff how they feel and know what to do with the response. People are just getting by and they hope their leaders will tell them about their work situation rather than how they feel, ”said Ms. Service.

“It means asking ‘what should you do? Rather “what can you do?” And “what do you have the capacity for?” They want authorization because, once their tasks are done, they can log out. It’s the management of adrenaline.

Ms Otero said leaders consulted need to ensure that they and level staff are given a break.

“Things like employee assistance programs or one-day-a-year events have their place. However, on their own, they often do not lead to lasting and significant improvement or change. People often need more, ”she said.

“This is especially the case where there are unhealthy work practices, situations or environments, the investment in creating a healthy work environment must be made and requires investment from the top.

“The way to deal with burnout needs to go from the top down, taking into account the organizational factors that create or contribute to work stress, underperformance and burnout in individuals.

“Leaders need to reward a work push with a break, not another work push. “

For immediate assistance, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or BeyondBlue on 1300 46 36. Find a range of mental health tests, tools and support resources at beyond and


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