Consulting Work-Life Balance: The Hours MBB Consultants Work

MBB Work-Life Balance: the Hours MBB Consultants Work

If you’re applying to consulting firms, then you’ve undoubtedly read about all the great reasons to choose a consulting career. You’ve also probably heard that finding work-life balance can be challenging, with long hours and a lot of travel. 

So it’s easy to wonder, but hard to find the right person to ask: What’s the lifestyle really like at the MBB firms (McKinsey, Bain, and BCG)? We’ll share what you can really expect. 

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • How consultants think about work-life balance
  • MBB work-life balance: a typical day
  • A typical week
  • A typical year
  • Consulting work-life balance over the long term

Let’s get started!

How Consultants Think about Work-Life Balance

It’s no secret that the working hours in an MBB firm are more intense than a “normal” 40-hour week. Project work is demanding, and consultants often find themselves working “overtime.” But by how much? And at what intensity? 

Well, that varies.

A consultant’s hours are impacted by the project timeline, the type of project, and the travel required – and, by how their manager and team manage work-life balance. 

Client projects with tight timelines (e.g., 3-4 weeks) are typically more intense and have longer hours than projects delivered over a longer period (e.g., 6 months). 

The type of project also impacts the working hours. For example, most consultants comment that due diligence projects tend to be more intense, whereas a strategic project for a long-time client might be a bit more relaxed.

Travel also impacts working hours. Travel is more prevalent in the US and Europe where consultants may travel weekly to work at their client sites. Bain, for example, has a local staffing model where consultants are mostly staffed on projects with local or regional clients; whereas McKinsey has a regional or global model where consultants can be staffed just about anywhere. 

It can be challenging, therefore, for a consultant to maintain full control over their schedule. Many teams implement norms that introduce some flexibility, such as agreeing to one work-free night a week or not working past a certain time. 

MBB firms, even pre-pandemic, recognized the importance of implementing work-life balance practices to improve staff satisfaction and ultimately retention. 

At the end of the day, the reality of project-based client work is that projects have peaks and valleys. Stay in consulting long enough and you’ll most likely experience a mix of intense projects and more relaxed projects. 

Bottom line, it’s important to be thoughtful about what you want out of work – we all know consulting is a high-growth career with great benefits, and at the same time, we all have different levels of tolerance for its intense demands.

Consulting Work-Life Balance: What to Expect in a Day

MBB consultants’ working hours usually range from 8 to 12 hours a day. On very rare occasions, this may spike to 16 or 20 hours, but this isn’t viewed as normal or desirable. 

Most consultants will have some control over their working hours. At the start of each project, teams discuss their scheduling preferences – for example, some people prefer an early start to evening work. Teams will also set boundaries for working time. Even if the aspirational goals aren’t always met, the manager knows what to solve for. 

Most of the time, you can expect to have some control over your evenings, and it’s expected that people have things they want to do after work: working out, having dinner with friends, spending time with kids, etc. And you won’t work all evenings – consulting teams are always aiming for a reasonable sign-off time, though they’re expected to be on call.


Nail the case & fit interview with strategies from former MBB Interviewers that have helped 89.6% of our clients pass the case interview.

What to Expect in a Week

MBB consultants usually work 50-60 hours per week, most of it concentrated from Monday to Thursday. There may be some 60+ hour weeks, but again this is not seen as a norm or goal – it’s usually driven by tight timelines, upcoming deadlines, or an especially intense project. 

Weekly hours may also be impacted by travel time, if your team travels to the client site from Monday to Thursday as many teams do. Typically, MBB consultants take it slower on Fridays. 

Pre-pandemic, MBBs normally had “office Fridays” to build office rapport. Obviously, travel changed during the pandemic, but most MBB offices maintained some form of social interaction time on Friday such as virtual get-togethers. 

A side note on travel: During the “peak” of the pandemic (2020-2021), most MBB offices were fully remote – remote-work policy in most offices was dictated by the country’s COVID-19 guidelines. As most countries emerged from the worst waves of COVID-19, some MBB offices opted to open the offices however it was not mandatory to work from the office or the client’s office. 

In 2022, with many country COVID-19 restrictions lifted, for the most part MBB offices opened and travel to client sites was also permitted (depending on country guidelines and client office guidelines). As of writing, most MBB offices are back to pre-pandemic operations, i.e., Monday to Thursday at client site and “office Fridays.” 

It’s also important to note that consultants do have some control over travel if there is a good reason, such as attending in-office training, recruiting commitments, or a major personal commitment. 

Weekend work at MBBs is more of an exception than the norm – though when weekend work does come up, it’s usually urgent and therefore tougher to be flexible on. Even though weekend work isn’t typical, many consultants choose to spend a couple of hours on Sunday preparing for the week ahead.

What to Expect in a Year

consulting work-life balance with children

While long hours and travel time may make the consulting work-life balance seem daunting, over the span of a year you can expect a mix of more and less demanding projects. And, your utilization will never be 100% – that is, you won’t spend every possible hour in the year staffed on paid client work. 

When unstaffed (not doing project work), a consultant is said to be “on the beach.” During this time consultants typically work on internal projects such as writing proposals, which are less intense. There may also be times when a consultant isn’t needed at all for a few days. In that case, they need to be available, but don’t need to be in the office or at their laptop all day.

Consultants also attend formal training for 1-2 weeks every year or two. This is a great time to focus on professional development and networking within the firm. 

Finally, MBB firms offer competitive levels of vacation. When consultants take vacation days, these are almost always respected. Cancelling someone’s vacation or asking them to work during a vacation is seen as a last resort.

How much control can you expect over your staffing and other commitments throughout the year? While junior consultants have limited control over staffing, it’s good practice to be open about your priorities. These might be around the type of learning you’re seeking, your industry interests, or major lifestyle considerations such as a new baby. Your staffing manager will work with you to solve for those priorities over time.

MBB Work-life Balance over the Long Term

If you decide to stay in an MBB firm, your work-life balance will change with seniority. The more senior you are, the more control you have over your time and what you spend your time on, though it’s always a demanding career, especially for those who remain client-facing. 

MBB firms understand that everyone needs a breather now and then, and they offer options to get a change of scenery or slow down the pace. Examples of these programs include:

  • Rotation in a practice area (helping teams that serve a specific industry or function)
  • Rotation in an internal operational role (e.g., staffing, training, professional development)
  • Rotation in a different office
  • Unpaid leave (e.g., 2 months)
  • Paid leave at a percentage of salary (e.g., 80%, depending on the office or firm policy)
  • Externship opportunities where consultants can intern for a few months at a different company or at a nonprofit (this is mainly for junior roles)

In summary, consultants take a long view of work-life balance. While there might be intense times – especially when working towards an upcoming promotion – there will also be easier times. The MBB firms encourage their consultants to figure out what works for them, and work-life balance – at least within the bounds of what’s reasonable in a client-services industry – is seen as a worthy goal, not window dressing.

– – – – –

In this article, we’ve covered:

  • Consultants’ view of work-life balance at MBBs.
  • An MBB consulting lifestyle over a day, week, and year.
  • How the consulting work-life balance changes with time.

Still have questions?

If you have more questions about MBB work-life balance, leave them in the comments below. One of My Consulting Offer’s case coaches will answer them.

Other people exploring work-life balance at the MBB firms found the following pages helpful:

Help with Case Study Interview Prep

Thanks for turning to My Consulting Offer for info on consulting work-life balance. My Consulting Offer has helped almost 85% of the people we’ve worked with to get a job in management consulting.

We want
you to be successful in your consulting interviews too. For example, here is how Eve was able to get her offer from McKinsey.

Nail the case & fit interview with strategies from former MBB Interviewers that have helped 89.6% of our clients pass the case interview.

Leave a Comment

3 Things Consulting Firms Actually Look for in Your Application

We are sharing our powerful strategies to get your foot in the door, even if you have a low GPA, have little to no business experience, or study a non-business-related major.

We are excited to invite you to the online event.

Where should we send you the calendar invite and login information?