Cologne So much choice is new. “What’s your way?” Cassini Consulting asks in an Instagram ad – so: How do you want to work? And gives you a suggestion. “You can also achieve a lot with us part-time.” A 60-percent position instead of the often-mentioned 60-hour week? Completely free Fridays instead of preparing the projects at home until late at night after returning from the customer?
“Work in the consulting industry has changed fundamentally at the latest due to Corona,” says Michael Seipel, CEO at Cassini. “We grant everything we can in terms of flexibility, which we can pass on.” Around five to ten percent of the current 430 consultants in the fast-growing company do not currently work full-time, says Seipel.
A culture change is looming in the industry, where long working days are seen as a status symbol. Consulting firms are communicating the option of part-time work more and more aggressively, and this offer is regularly found in job advertisements. Of course, this does not happen out of pure charity.
Although some of the consultancies have recently announced job cuts, the need for well-trained young people remains immense. Finding the right staff – it is also a key issue for the consulting firms in the Handelsblatt ranking “Top Consulting”.
The candidates often have offers from corporations and start-ups that advertise good working conditions. “You can’t just take job applicants who are capable of suffering, you also have to adjust your own requirements a bit,” says Thomas Deelmann, consulting expert and professor for administrative management and organization at the University of Police and Public Administration in North Rhine-Westphalia.
Regular breaks of up to two months, which follow intensive projects, have long been established in many consultancies. Now there is a growing willingness for consultants to be able to reduce their weekly working hours. These employees usually keep individual days of the week completely free. “It’s much easier to skip certain days instead of working a few hours shorter each day,” says Cassini CEO Seipel.
Alexa Werner, who is responsible for talent strategy in Accenture’s human resources department, reports on intensive discussions on the subject of working hours. The first results are now visible. “We are increasingly offering part-time positions, also at the entry-level level.” In the coming months, the possibility of individual adjustments is to be integrated into the so-called “contract configurator” for all employees – the consultants can use this to adjust their working hours and vacation days within a certain framework.
The customer remains king, but the consultations emphasize this in unison. Deelmann therefore warns against overestimating the promises on career sites as a beginner. “The regulations often remain vague and the possibilities depend on the projects and the respective superiors,” he says.
If a customer wants a permanent team on site four days a week, there is little scope for flexible working hours. However, a growing number of companies are becoming more willing to go along with alternative concepts that do not require full-time consultants.
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However, this increases the effort. “Having the right people with the right qualifications at the right time for a project has always been a multidimensional optimization problem,” says Stefan Hiendlmeier, Member of the Board and Chief People Officer at Horváth, “now another dimension is added.”
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The approach of the Stuttgart-based consultancy, in which around 200 of the 1,300 employees work part-time: Before starting with a new customer, the new team gets together and draws up a project contract. He records what the cooperation looks like in concrete terms and how the customer is present. It also shows who is available on which days and to what extent.
With reduced working hours, however, the consultancies have to rethink their often standardized personnel development. That starts with getting started. Frequent project changes and time-consuming assignments are traditionally part of the first years of work. “Most of them come to us because they want a steep learning curve after their studies,” says Jonathan Steinbach, recruiting director at McKinsey in Germany and Austria.
Some consultancies are trying, for example, to enable more flexible timetables for newcomers with more hybrid seminars. “If someone is less there, you have to find ways to ensure good induction and development even in the reduced working hours,” says Accenture expert Werner.
Consulting firms want to keep employees longer in consulting
It is similarly unclear how a part-time consulting career will develop. Many consultancies point out that they no longer look strictly at completed years and projects. It is fitting that specialist careers are being found more and more often instead of fixed levels. These are open to consultants who want to move up the ladder – but don’t feel like leading teams or making acquisitions.
If you take a six-month sabbatical, you shouldn’t ask for a raise afterwards. Michael Seipel, CEO at Cassini
All of this contributes to another major goal of the consulting firms: to keep employees longer in the consultation – regardless of the phase of life. Still, a full-time job can accelerate the next leap. What are the chances for consultants who have less practical experience because of a sabbatical?
Whether another project alone will be the decisive factor for the next level, “is rather unlikely, and of course you learn and develop even part-time,” asserts Hiendlmeier von Horváth. “But of course, depending on the amount of time alternatively used, the individual learning curve can also take longer.”
The consultations do not want to make it too easy for the youngsters. Despite part-time opportunities, they expect a high level of commitment – and the willingness to deviate from fixed days off when deadlines are approaching. In some cases, the expectations of consultants and supervisors collide. “Anyone who takes a six-month sabbatical will have no effect on the company during this time and should not ask for a salary increase afterwards – but such things do happen,” says Seipel.
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