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An Unexpectedly Long Commute

DILEMMA

I was in a senior management position at one of the banks that failed in the economic crisis. I was offered a great position with the company that took over our bank, but decided rather to take some time off before resuming my career. While on sabbatical, I concluded that I wanted to continue in an executive role, but wanted to be in Chicago (we had moved to a place downtown to be near extended family) and have time to devote to my wife and two young sons. After extensive interviewing, I found a consulting firm wanting to start a Chicago practice. They assured me that I could pace my time to allow for family, and that I could develop clients in the city, which would give me a great commute.

When I reported, they had a near-term opportunity they wanted me to develop, about an hour-and-a-half drive from my home. After talking with the client, they said they would work with our firm if I was the principal on the engagement, which would last about two years. Saying I could not do that upset both the client and the management of the consulting firm. I felt like I had been lied to about the opportunity. I have tried to find a compromise position for myself, the client, and our company, but was told by my new boss that it would take time to develop the “in city” practice, and in the meantime they needed me to be billable. What should I do?

Trying to Balance Work and Family

RESPONSE

Thanks for writing. Having worked in consulting myself (for a firm based in Chicago, ironically), I can personally identify with your predicament. Not having been in on your hiring discussions, it’s difficult for me to say if you were intentionally deceived or if there was some type of communication problems and/or differences in perceptions about what a work-life balance looks like.

Given the nature of consulting (billable hours and working with clients at different locations), what may be a key issue here is the amount of time that you have been given to develop local clients. Was this discussed openly? If so and they have changed the terms, you have been legitimately wronged and should pursue further conversations. If no progress is made, you can leave with a clean conscience (provided there are no legal issues involved). Or, given current economic times, you can swallow hard and live with the long commute while working toward changing the situation (perhaps bringing on another consultant to handle parts of the engagement).

If the amount of time was left open and undefined, then this may be more of a legitimate misunderstanding and some further grace on your part toward your employers may be due.

Kenman Wong
Professor of Ethics, School of Business and Economics
Seattle Pacific University

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