Work-Life Balance: Professional Services Firm

Jane’s on the fast track to success.  A 28-year-old third-year senior associate at one of the United States’ large professional services firms which she joined right out of college, she averages a 70-hour work week.  Her company recently made Fortune’s “100 Best Places to Work” list because of its spectacular benefits, but Jane has no time to take advantage of them. She’d like to start a family, but with the travel and hours, she doesn’t see where this would fit in. In fact, when her boyfriend surprised her recently by proposing, it jolted her into asking herself whether this job was really the right place for her after all.

Details change, but the storyline is all too common. To get ahead, employees keep their noses down and work hard, somehow losing control of where they want to be both as employees and as human beings.

That’s where “Turning Point” came in.  Aimed at helping employees address their personal lives as they navigate the career ladder, this program first required the organization to take an honest look at itself. An idealized and overly scripted look at life in the firm, untrue to employees’ experience, would have lost trust, not built it.

Executives and program faculty had to address the hard subjects directly. If employees were receiving outside job offers, for example, the firm had to recognize these as valid and help employees analyze what they wanted out of a job and how to talk with their bosses about it.

Beginning a family, caring for aging parents, taking a leadership role in the community—these were common but not universal experiences, so the program presented a process to prepare participants to address challenges individually rather than making assumptions about what challenges they faced.

Once they understood where they were and thought through where they wanted to be, the program helped them get the support they would require to succeed.  Peer learning groups or “sounding boards” gave participants a chance to discuss issues with their fellows—and with executive coaches who facilitated.

Employees were asked to take direct ownership for achieving their goals in the firm as well as in life—and given the tools to do it.

Jane, who attended a two-day version of Turning Point, began with small group discussions on “assessing your current reality” and “living an engaged life.” Coaches helped participants through issues they wanted to discuss and gave them an opportunity for an after-program session.

She realized her goals were her responsibility, and she seized upon the tools provided in the program to make it easier. When Jane got back to work, she had a “difficult conversation” with her boss about where she wanted to go within her firm, and had a similar conversation with her fiancé.

For the firm, those attending Turning Point had 55% lower turnover than a control group.