Researching Employees' Perception of Work-Life Quality
for One of the World's Leading Strategy Consulting Firms
The Financial Services Group (FSG) of this leading strategy consulting firm wanted to understand how they could make their Firm the best place to work, not just for attracting and retaining talent, but through a desire to enhance the work-life quality of all employees. The Firm had undergone growing pains but they were also very cognisant that the brightest and most talented have more going on in their life than just their career management, particularly with the confluence of working and starting a family. So being the best place to work also addressed the hard empirical data on diversity and inclusivity.
The FSG executive team recognised that in order to address this question they needed to engage more deeply with the consulting staff, something that went beyond employee engagement surveys and tools.
Strategic Career Decisions (SCD) were brought in to explore how the Firm could achieve greater insight and suggested an inductive approach, based on in-depth interviews, that sought to understand the lived experience of the consulting staff and their own perception of work-life quality. This type of interview is greatly enhanced by the interviewer’s skill in guiding the conversation and adopting a person-centered approach often used in counselling sessions. It was also essential that all participants were guaranteed confidentiality and all quotes or references were anonymised so that they could talk freely without fear of repercussions.
Having agreed the research parameters SCD wrote a research brief and an invitation to participate was sent out to over 400 consulting staff in EMEA asking for volunteers to be interviewed.
To ensure diversity there was a heterogenuous sample and 75 interviews were conducted across 9 European offices, representing all levels in the hierarchy (including Partners), men and women, parents and non-parents, and 16 different nationalities. 109 hours of interview time was recorded and transcribed. Each interview was listened to at least twice by SCD researchers and Thematic Analysis was used to determine patterns of meaning that emerged from the interviews. In addition, to provide some quantitative balance to the research, participants were asked to complete a brief questionnaire on work-life boundaries.
Following the Thematic Analysis it was clear that there were some distinct patterns that transcended the entire sample. With so much data we were able to build up a detailed picture of what it is like to work at the Firm, and most importantly, what needed to change in order to make it an even better place to work. One of the core themes could be conceptualised as Lacking Empathy, for example, where technology has created a barrier to deeper connection amongst employees through the use of conference calls and weekend emails and soforth, and how this impacts on connecting with people and the quality of work. Another theme that emerged was Burn Out and how this was experienced by employees at all levels and the Firm’s mechanism for managing this. Work and Family Life compatibility was also a very prominent theme with rich data from both parents and those thinking about starting a family in the future, and how they viewed their working self with the compatibility of family life.
The research was delivered to a project steering group and the presentation included verbatim quotations from employees. All employees had been guaranteed confidentiality and the quotes were anonymised to remove anything that would identify them.
“I was meeting a client and one of my colleagues said “You look a little bit tired, are you OK?” Nobody has asked me that in so many months…someone is actually looking at and asking me something other than “tell me what’s on the slide”…we don’t spend enough time just saying “Are you OK?” Empathy
“We have a company culture where if I have a spontaneous question to a colleague then I would rather write an email…I wouldn’t pick up the phone and try and call that person…I actually think that our firm is quite transactional in culture…” Empathy
“I suspect that happens more than we talk about and I think that a lot of people are ashamed when they find themselves in that situation… I think sometimes these things are a bit of a ‘dirty secret’ and ‘I can’t admit I can’t cope and everyone else is coping and I’m not’ and…that just makes it worse” Burn Out
“I couldn’t talk about it until the pain had subsided” Burn Out
“We tend to see this whole family-parental issue as a woman thing, right? I think that’s very detrimental. Why can’t a male Principal or Partner ask for flexible arrangements because he wants to be home on a Friday to be with his family?...It’s all positioned around the woman’s needs” Family Life
Through this Thematic Analysis the FSG has been able to set up working parties under each theme, with the support of SCD, and hence continue the effort toward making the Firm the best place to work. One of the Partners commented that there is a new vocabulary within the firm that is more empathetic and understanding of employees life choices. as well as being able to express feelings of not coping (leading to Burn Out) may not be as stigmatising as it was before.
From an individual perspective, many consultants reported that the interview itself was therapeutic, which they hadn’t anticipated. Having the chance to talk freely to someone independent of the organisation prompted self-realisations and helped them to make sense of some of their own thoughts.
Whilst difficult to measure, there is no doubt that this outcome will deliver significant value in the coming years and will almost certainly make the Firm one of the best places to work.
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