The term "bench time" refers to the time spent in between engagements as a consultant while working for a consulting firm.
As a salaried employee of a consulting firm, you're paid a salary while you're on "the bench." As a contract consultant, you’re generally paid an hourly rate that would be higher than what you’re paid on salary, but you’re not going to be paid for bench time.
The rate you earn on salary is lower than the rate you earn as contract consultant partly because, as a salaried employee, you’ll continue to be compensated if there’s a period of time when you’re on the bench between engagements.
One of the problems I see for employee consultants is that they’re not clear as to what “bench time” really means.
First, let’s be realistic: “Bench time” does not mean that your firm will pay you a salary even if they’re unable to find you a project for a year. Although that sounds extreme, the point is that there’s a limit to the amount of time a firm will pay for bench time.
Along those lines, it’s not reasonable for a firm to pay someone a lower rate, have them fully utilized for two years, only to let them go one week after their engagement comes to an end.
What bench time really means is that you’ll be paid while you’re between assignments, and that your company feels there’s a high probability of securing your next engagement in a timely manner. When demand for your skills dries up, most consulting firms are not going to keep you on the bench for very long. You’ll eventually be let go with the possibility of some sort of severance package.
The key here is this: If you’re going to accept an overall lower hourly compensation rate in the form of a salary in exchange for knowing that there will be compensation provided during bench time, be clear as to what that really means! Otherwise, you may find that you’ve been giving up a significant amount of compensation without reaping any of the benefits.
Want to learn more about what it takes to enter a career in healthcare IT consulting? Download our free guide Healthcare Consulting 101: Understanding the Four Types of Healthcare Consultants for more information.