By far the most common reason that consultants give for leaving consulting is work/life balance. Long hours, constant travel and side-of-desk work that can count for your promotion case as much as your client-facing work (and is often done in evenings or over weekends) mean that many consultants burn out. This is particularly important for consultants in their late 20s and early 30s, who find that being away from home for four days a week is incompatible with their aspirations to start a family.
While strong progression is one of the big draws of consulting, progression can also be a reason why people leave. Some (particularly strategy consultants) go down the venture capital or private equity route, which can command even bigger salaries and offer a slightly different challenge. Others go in-house to deepen their subject matter expertise, often with the view that this will help them push for Partner should they later return to consulting.
Variety, one of the main pulls of consulting, can also be a factor that makes people turn away from the industry. Tired of the mercenary nature of their work, rarely seeing projects through a full lifecycle and even less frequently seeing the fruits of the work they do for clients, many consultants go in-house with a view to own their own product or function and embed themselves within a business.
The factors listed above are inherent to consulting, but there are issues that are endemic to (often large) consultancies that are not necessarily part and parcel of the industry. The fast progression that is promised in consulting can be met with frustration when consultants find that promotions are not always meritocratic. Politics plays a factor, as promotion cases can boil down to who you know rather than what you have done; consultants who are operating at the next level are not promoted because they haven’t fulfilled enough time at their current grade; and for senior candidates, winning rather than delivering work becomes a major metric that their promotion cases are measured against.
“Red tape” and “bureaucracy” are terms that I hear consultants use time and time again, and big consultancies — often the slowest to react to the shifting demands of their workforce — lose consultants because of it.