Junior Staff Of Professional Service Firms Are Resigning In Great Numbers*

April 13, 2021 by

Employee burnout has never been worse.

As I have highlighted in the many Podcasts I have led this year, both the Covid-19 Pandemic and increased workloads have triggered a significant rise in mental health problems for all employees, especially with the shift to solitary remote working.  But the rise in mental health problems has been the most dramatic for junior professional service workers.

Junior lawyers and consultants are warning that they are suffering burnout after working longer hours in isolation, highlighting fears of an exodus from some of the biggest global management consulting, financial, and law firms.

This impending exodus is also being exacerbated by both the heightening demand for consulting and legal advice during this crisis as well as the global transition to remote working.

Senior Lawyers also report the fast pace of work was no longer tempered by social interaction and face-to-face work, causing many juniors lawyers to reconsider their career path.  They also confirmed that many junior staffers were already departing.

Similar tensions are being felt within financial services organizations.  In fact, as a perfect example, just last week a group of first-year investment banking analysts told management at Goldman Sachs that they had been working 95 hours per week, and that they were suffering from severe anxiety and insomnia.

When the pandemic began, management consulting, financial institutions, and law firms were flooded with requests from companies trying to pivot into restructuring.  The new mergers and acquisitions, creation of SPACs, and private equity deals resulted in a soaring demand for corporate bankers and lawyers.  In fact, in 2020, there were over 8,000 private equity deals, the most since they began tracking.  According to PwC, the number of bankruptcies catapulted 16.5% over the same period.

One frustrated junior staffer at a U.S. law firm, who wanted to remain anonymous said, “This burnout is awful and very, very, real.  I am working two times my normal work hours.  I feel the fear, anxiety, and stress during every waking moment.”

“I often wonder just how long can this go on?  It has also severely affected my sleep.  I am no longer allowed to take vacations, which used to be a great way to alleviate stress.  The sheer uncertainty of when this will all end is probably the most complicated and frustrating part of it all.”

Another junior professional staffer said, “We can’t even get together with our co-workers for drinks or athletic activities, both of which used to be a great way to unwind.”

A Senior Manager at a large private equity firm said that he has noticed a big increase in complaints from the junior employees.  One of the biggest complaints is that there is no longer a distinction between work and home.  “I’m just plain sick of it.”

The stress, anxiety, and increased complaints have also resulted in some Senior Managers showing little or no empathy for junior staffers, and in some cases, saying insensitive and shaming comments to the younger employees.  KPMG’s former CEO, Bill Michael, was forced to resign after telling staffers to “stop moaning” and quit “playing the victim card.”  Another Senior Lawyer at a U.S. law firm told the junior staffers to “stop being whiny weasels and get on with it – you’re lucky to have jobs.”

So, what steps can HR Leaders promote to quell this post-pandemic anxiety and stress?  Here are 8 proven tips on how:

  1. First, declare insensitive and shaming comments by Senior Leaders, like the aforementioned completely unacceptable. Furthermore, ensure that there are real and strong ramifications for Senior Leaders that continue to make these insensitive comments.
  2. Evaluate your wellness policies and whether they need to be changed or bolstered. In fact, 72% of U.S. companies are adding more benefits focused on employee well-being.1 Furthermore, 59% of U.S. employers are adding new benefits, such as offering mental health counseling, reduced workloads, less work hours, and/or giving more paid time off.2
  3. Try and ensure these wellness policies are inclusive, such that people can select what best works for them.
  4. Make promoting FUN an intrinsic part of your workplace culture, since FUN can be the most powerful medicine for anxiety and stress. Leverage gamification, letting your employees regularly play online games with one another.
  5. Set daily mindfulness breaks twice daily, mid-morning and mid-afternoon.
  6. To address the dual pressures of home-schooling and working from home, consider expanding family care leave, such as adding additional paid time off for parents and/or additional child support.
  7. Revisit your company’s approach to meetings; this is especially important given the widespread employee disdain for these meetings. There were 55 million meetings in the U.S. this year.3  The average Manager in the U.S. sat in on 12 meetings per week, while the average non-manager had to attend eight.3  Recent studies reported that 70% of worldwide workers rated their meetings as poor or unproductive.4  Here are 10 very helpful tips for improving your meetings and how they are perceived:
  • Create significantly better meeting agendas.
  • Train your meeting leaders on how to chair a successful meeting.
  • In advance of the meeting, inform attendees as to why they are being invited to the meeting.
  • Expect and demand that the meeting starts on time.
  • Also, explain that anyone who shows up late to the meeting will not be allowed to participate.
  • Be sensitive to time zones when scheduling the meeting.
  • Clearly define the topic/s that are going to be discussed.
  • Explain why the topic/s is/are important enough to be on the agenda.
  • Articulate what you would like to achieve during the meeting.
  • Include only the right people in the remote meeting.
  • Consider establishing a “No Meeting Day” every two weeks.

Ironically, bad meetings are like a virus.  The outcome of a bad meeting is another meeting to be held, then another, and another.  As such, strive to make your meetings successful right out of the gate.

  1. While all of the tips above are very effective, the single most important driver of successfully managing pandemic fatigue, is the relationship the Manager has with her/his employees. Great Managers have regular interactions or “check-ins” with their direct reports and initiate a dialogue about their wellbeing.  Moreover, the more contact employees have with their Manager, the better they feel and more committed they are to their health.


* As first seen on The Staffing Stream

12020 Study By PwC.

22020 Study By PwC.

3The Financial Times, December, 2020.

4The Surprising Science Of Meetings, 2019, by Steven Rogelberg.


Kevin Sheridan is an internationally-recognized Keynote Speaker, a New York Times Best Selling Author, and one of the most sought-after voices in the world on the topic of Employee Engagement. For five years running, he has been honored on Inc. Magazine’s top 100 Leadership Speakers in the world, as well as Inc.’s top 100 experts on Employee Engagement. He was also honored to be named to The Employee Engagement Award’s Top 101 Global Influencers on Employee Engagement of 2017.

Having spent thirty years as a high-level Human Capital Management consultant, Kevin has helped some of the world’s largest corporations rebuild a culture that fosters productive engagement, earning him several distinctive awards and honors. Kevin’s premier creation, PEER®, has been consistently recognized as a long-overdue, industry-changing innovation in the field of Employee Engagement. His first book, Building a Magnetic Culture, made six of the best seller lists including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. He is also the author of The Virtual Manager, which explores how to most effectively manage remote workers.

Kevin received a Master of Business Administration from the Harvard Business School in 1988, concentrating his degree in Strategy, Human Resources Management, and Organizational Behavior. He is also a serial entrepreneur, having founded and sold three different companies.

Email: kevin@kevinsheridanllc.com