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Loosening the consulting organisational machinery? A comparative study of work-life balance practices in two consulting firms

Abstract : This paper contributes to the study of work-life balance practices in very constrained environments such as Professional Service Firms. We start by highlighting the distinctive features of Professional Service Firms’ incentive system, which is rooted in the 19th c. Cravath law firm and assumes that young professionals are willing to sacrifice their personal life to be eventually co-opted partner. We show that a few recent studies lead us to question this assumption and wonder whether this specific system may have lost its incentive power. We then ask the following question: Do Professional Service Firms intend to respond to growing demands of work-life balance and how can they accommodate them? Our study is based on the combination of exploratory interviews of 9 Human Resources directors and 6 partners in 9 consulting firms with an in-depth comparative case study of two Finance and Management consulting firms’ practices in the matter. It contributes to the understanding of work-life balance in Professional Service Firms in several ways. First, we confirm that consulting firms are confronted with demands of flexibility. Yet, we find that Human Resources Directors and Partners have two distinct standpoints on the issue: a first group explains this phenomenon is in line with the normal functioning of the up-or-out system, while a second group admits struggling to retain some promising consultants and trying to address their demands. Our comparative case study then shows that consulting firms attempt to accommodate demands of work-life balance and flexibility through a number of arrangements concerning: time, location, project assignment and client relationship management. Given the considerable discrepancy observed between the firm providing financial advice and the firm providing management advice, we then discuss how contingent consulting firms’ capacity to respond to work-life balance demands may be. We go on to propose a framework of analysis of work-life balance arrangements in Professional Service Firms highlighting the role played by the leverage model, fee billing practices, the length of projects and their location, which are all strongly influenced by the type of advice provided. Finally, we discuss the role played by professional service firms’ organisational constraints in favouring or discouraging these arrangements.
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Contributor : Lucie Noury Connect in order to contact the contributor
Submitted on : Monday, January 4, 2016 - 11:36:33 AM
Last modification on : Wednesday, November 17, 2021 - 12:31:23 PM


  • HAL Id : hal-01250038, version 1


Lucie Noury, Sébastien Gand, Jean-Claude Sardas. Loosening the consulting organisational machinery? A comparative study of work-life balance practices in two consulting firms. XXIVe Conférence de l’Association Internationale de Management Stratégique, Jun 2015, Paris, France. ⟨hal-01250038⟩



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