Consulting industry Big Four sees Great Resignation drag to close

21 September 2023 Consultancy.uk 5 min. read
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A slowdown in attrition at the UK’s top consulting firms is leaving fewer opportunities for new talent to advance. With many professionals at the Big Four in particular seen to be ‘clinging on’ to roles until the country’s economy improves, the quartet face the possibility of struggling to hang on to their next generation of experts in the coming year.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic took hold in 2020, millions of workers have left their jobs. The so-called Great Resignation represents a previously unprecedented event in the labour market, as following two years of home-working and public health measures amid the global pandemic, many people have re-evaluated what they expect from employers.

While the trend seems to have momentarily slowed, leading to some sources to declare “the Great Resignation is over”, research suggests that this might be jumping the gun somewhat – at least when it comes to the UK.

Consulting industry Big Four sees Great Resignation drag to close

With inflation having risen at a much faster rate than wages over the past 18 months, a 47% portion of Britain’s workforce has little to no money left over at the end of the month after expenses – and as a result, 23% expect to change jobs within the next 12 months – up from 18% in 2022.

However, that is not a uniform trend. PwC, the firm behind that report – along with the rest of the Big Four – is understood to be one environment where a ‘great stagnation’ is occurring instead. According to analysis from business news site The Edge, fewer than 750 people left the UK divisions of EY, PwC, Deloitte and KPMG in August; in stark contrast to more than 1,500 in August 2022.

With the UK’s sluggish economic performance seeing many clients put off contracts until things improve, the country’s biggest consulting firms have seen the boom-times of the last three years draw to a close – having undertaken huge hiring campaigns in order to meet with demand. As that demand dries up, accountants, consultants and auditors at the firms are understood to be increasingly nervous in their ability to hang on to their jobs.

Together, KPMG, Deloitte, PwC and EY employ more than 80,000 people in the UK. And with a threat to their bottom-lines now presenting itself, they have begun to announce dreaded ‘efficiency savings’. Deloitte has become the latest member of the Big Four to announce cuts. A raft of 800 proposed job losses represents a 3% cut in the company's 27,000-strong workforce in the UK – months after Deloitte announced plans to slash 1,200 jobs in the US as well.

Deloitte chief executive Richard Houston said in a statement, "This follows a slowdown in growth, which, combined with the ongoing economic uncertainty, means we have to consider the shape of our business and may mean we have to make some difficult decisions… I fully understand this is an unsettling time for those people affected and we will be doing everything we can to support individuals with care and respect."

EY – which recently took a financial hit from its doomed plan to split in two – has also announced plans to cull about 5% of staff from its UK financial services consulting division amid a slowdown in demand. Meanwhile rival PwC said it’s cutting pay increases and bonuses for some of its 25,000 UK employees. KPMG similarly reduced the bonus pool of its UK workforce and reined in commission for salespeople at the start of 2023, as its profits falter amid a slowdown in the dealmaking environment.

Wider issues

The trend is impacting other kinds of professional services, too. At McKinsey & Company, Bain & Company and Boston Consulting Group, the strategy giants saw just 87 UK leavers at the end of summer — around half the level of a year ago. Meanwhile, MHA (Baker Tilly’s UK arm) confirmed it was also seeing fewer employees hand in their notices.

Speaking to The Edge, Francesca Lagerberg, chief executive officer of Baker Tilly said, “The great resignation has turned into a mindset of staying put while the global economy sorts itself out.”

This is also leading to fewer open roles at audit and advisory firms. Looking at the Big Four, the quartet hired about 790 people in August, according to Consulting Point figures – down from more than 1,500 a year ago.

Tamzen Isacsson, Chief Executive of the Management Consultancies Association (MCA) said: “Given the huge fluctuations in client demand since the pandemic, some readjustments to workforces and the balances of skills within firms is expected.”

Worryingly for some firms, the trend could impact their ability to obtain and retain top talent in the coming period. The professional services industry is the UK’s biggest recruiter of graduates, hiring around 8,000 in 2022 – including 6,000 people in September across the Big Four. That looks set to decline this year if KPMG is anything to go by, having stated it will hire 1,400 graduates and apprentices this year.

Meanwhile, with lower attrition, the new talent that does arrive will find it hard to find opportunities for advancement. While the trend for ‘staying put’ to see out economic turbulence might not last forever, it could be the most talented staff who end up bucking the trend first. The best-performing new employees could start looking for jobs elsewhere, having been frustrated by the lack of senior roles being vacated within the Big Four, or beyond – leaving the companies with a major talent-development conundrum in the period to come.

Despite the recruitment hike, Isacsson said the consulting industry is still on its path for growth in 2023. “Our latest forecasts from leaders across the market suggest that, although growth has slowed, the sector is still forecast to achieve double digit growth in 2023 and we continue to achieve record exports overseas.”