I Quit McKinsey With My Mental Health Shattered

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This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with a former McKinsey & Company associate who worked at the company for a year and a half. They spoke on condition of anonymity due to privacy concerns. Business Insider has verified their identity and employment at McKinsey. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I joined McKinsey as an associate in 2021. Going in, I always knew, “I’m here for a bad time, not a long time.”

I knew that the work would be challenging, but I also hoped that if I stuck it out, I’d be able to build up my analytical tool kit and pick up great problem-solving skills.

But looking back, I regret the way I approached my time at McKinsey.

There was little mentorship

One of the things I struggled with was the lack of mentorship. It’s supposed to be a really apprenticeship-heavy culture, but that wasn’t my experience.

You’re expected to start working from day one. I was there to learn, but it was a frustrating experience because no one was there to teach me. I wanted somebody to sit down with me and teach me the basic skills required for the job, like how to prepare for a meeting, how to wordsmith a presentation deck, and how to fix my mistakes.

I was alone on an island while my manager drowned in her other work. I felt like I wasn’t learning anything.

As a result, I heard senior-level employees commenting about how the new analysts and associates weren’t good because they weren’t receiving any mentorship.

I typically worked from 7:30 a.m. until 11:30 p.m.

As consultants, we didn’t have to do any hardcore research because we had teams that did our research for us. We also had a team we could call on if we needed help with Excel, a team to make our PowerPoints pretty, and a team to set up calls with experts.

It’s funny because people ask me, “You had all those researchers, so what did you do?”

My days mainly consisted of problem-solving meetings in which we’d show the partners or senior partners our decks and get their feedback, take notes, and then revise accordingly before the next meeting, which might be later that same day or the following day. Sometimes I’d have three of these meetings a day, all on different presentations.

I also spent time conducting research for new pages in a deck, in client meetings, and on calls with experts.

On a typical day, I worked from 7:30 a.m. or 8 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. And it was pedal to the metal — I didn’t leave my desk, forgot to eat, and dropped tons of weight. I barely remembered to go to the bathroom. I only remembered to get up when I noticed my dog looking at me sadly.

And though we had a budget for fun work events, some people didn’t like attending them because they’d still have a ton of work waiting for them when they got home.

I had many team dinners where some people would call their Uber secretly underneath the table so they could get home and keep working. It kind of took the fun away.

The bar at McKinsey was much higher than at my previous consulting firm

I feel like people love to hate consultants. They say that consultants just take companies’ money and don’t add value. But many consulting firms get projects based on results and outcomes, and McKinsey couldn’t be McKinsey without results.

I’ve read comments on social media that assume there are a lot of overpaid idiots at McKinsey. But there really aren’t — there’s an attitude of “move up or out,” so people there are really good.

I got the chance to solve a lot of difficult problems with some really smart people. The company really goes out of its way to give clients a bespoke experience, as opposed to Big Four work, which is more of a plug-and-chug into the same slide situation.

I had previously worked at another consulting firm, and my experience there compared to McKinsey was like night and day. The work at McKinsey was so much harder, and the bar was so much higher. Everything at McKinsey is just a lot more customized.

Some associate partners and partners were mean

The people at McKinsey were both the best and worst parts of my experience.

The analysts and associates were all cool, but a few associate partners and partners were mean. They freaked out over mistakes and belittled people’s thought processes.

My McKinsey friends always said I got really unlucky in terms of the associate partners I had to work with closely.

Although it wasn’t an everyday thing, they made some analysts and associates cry. One associate partner looked at a slide I made, began laughing hysterically, and said it was the worst slide they had ever seen. Another associate partner yelled at and made fun of people while talking about them behind their backs — and to their faces.

But my colleagues could be really supportive. One time, an associate partner screamed at me in front of our whole team because they wrongfully thought I was going to miss a deadline — but I knew I could meet it and didn’t end up missing it.

I still ended up crying.

My team felt so bad for me that they rallied behind me and we all stopped working for the night. One of my coworkers went and got bottles of wine, and we all drank in the team room; it just felt like a lot of camaraderie.

I took a mental-health break because I couldn’t do it anymore

After about a year of working at McKinsey, I took a three-month mental-health leave. It was literally driving me to the edge. I just couldn’t do it anymore.

I was crying more and taking anxiety medication at a higher dosage than I had ever needed before joining. The week before I decided to leave, I was oscillating between being OK and then crying and then being very stoic.

I told my development group leader, a mentor assigned by McKinsey, that I was thinking about taking short-term mental-health disability leave. I wasn’t even nervous about bringing this up because of how normal it seemed — I know other McKinsey employees who had also taken health breaks due to the mental toll.

Before McKinsey, I didn’t even know mental-health disability benefits were a thing. Now I know more than a few people who have gotten them. The mental toll, plus the workload, was crazy.

I’ve heard multiple people, myself included, say, “I do not get paid enough for this shit,” and I genuinely believe that. I don’t think that the pay was enough for what we were doing, despite the fact that I was making over $200,000 a year when I left.

During my break, I tried to pick up new hobbies and realized that I hated every hobby. I tried to get out of the house more but wasn’t really successful because of how down I was. Sometimes, I’d have to hire a dog walker even though I was home because I just felt like I couldn’t handle it. At some point, I couldn’t even care for myself, so my mom came to town to care for me and my dog.

I decided to leave the company because I realized I couldn’t stay at a place that caused my mental health to deteriorate like this. Why would I want to be someplace that led me to such a dark place?

I regret not being more assertive when I was there

The problem with McKinsey wasn’t the work — I’m used to working hard, working long hours, and being frustrated at work. I think it was really the people beating down on me and making me feel like I was never enough that really cracked me.

It’s been over a year since I officially left, and I feel much better now. I’m hopping back into the job market and doing interviews. They always say that once you go to McKinsey, you can go anywhere, but the market is bad right now, and that hasn’t been my experience. It’s hard for me to quantify the value of having worked at McKinsey.

Overall, my time at McKinsey was a good learning experience — not so much in terms of hard analytical skills. I didn’t pick up as many of those as I had wanted, but I did learn a lot about myself and working with different kinds of people.

I wish I had been a bit more assertive while I was there. You know the saying, “Play the game, or the game plays you?” I think the game played me, and if I had been a little more willing to stand up for what I needed, like being mentored and standing up to the mean associate partners, it would’ve been much better.

Maybe if I had stood up for myself more or received more guidance, I wouldn’t have gotten yelled at as much. But I also think going on mental-health leave was inevitable given the kind of people I worked with. I don’t think there was anything I could have really done.

As I look for a new job, I’m looking for companies that care about their employees, value inclusivity, and treat everyone with respect. I’m looking for companies that value mentorship, and I always ask in coffee chats, “What is the apprenticeship model at your company? What is the hierarchy model at your company? What is the upward feedback model at your company?” Those are things I will always ask now.

McKinsey & Company declined a request for comment from Business Insider.

If you worked at a top consulting firm and want to share your story, email Jane Zhang at [email protected].

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