If you search the interwebs, you will find all kinds of comparisons regarding working for small companies vs working for large ones.
Some people are just more cut out for one than the other.
There are people who just love big companies and the perks, status and pay that comes along with a big-name company. I’ve always been a small-company gal. Well, I used to be, until one of the previous places I worked at (let’s call it company G) made me swear off tiny companies for the rest of my life.
The things that are amazing about a small company
When I talk about small, I mean like 30 or less kind of small. The place I worked in had literally 10 people in it – or less, depending how you saw it.
Coming from a political company culture with 30 people that was filled with gossip-mongers and backstabbers to this job was heaven to me – at least at first.
I learnt a lot of different things
This is the main advantage of a small outfit. You will be exposed to all parts of the business.
I was involved in different types of work like marketing and Biz Development that was out of my jobscope. But I really enjoyed those moments as they were exciting and offered some respite from my usual work.
I wouldn’t have been so interested in SEO and social media had I not been exposed to all of it.
I got to meet many people as a result of that too. I was friends with our PR advisers, attended networking events constantly and got to see things from someone else’s perspective. All very interesting.
Could have a greater say in things
Stuff like budgets and strategies and which clients to talk to. There is a chance to be involved in all of these. And suddenly, you feel heard.
There is also a chance to take ownership of projects and drive them forward, so you get to build up other types of skills as a result. Personally, I became really good at project management; looking at the big picture whilst ensuring the smaller stuff are always attended to.
Greater chance of working as a team
I love working in teams and collaborating with people from a diversity of backgrounds, it just makes everything so fun and yet focused.
I was in a team with 4 others and honestly it was one of the best project teams I’ve ever been in, in my entire life. All of us had different experiences and backgrounds, even came from different countries. But we always made the impossible work.
Impossible deadlines? We put aside everything else. Somebody else in the team needs advice on an area that doesn’t concern me? Immediately schedules in the time to help them.
The camaraderie was amazing and everyone was really helpful and collaborative with a common sense of purpose – gettting whatever that needs to be done, done. We had alot of fun along the way too and were pretty close-knit.
I can only hope my next team is just as amazing.
The things that suck about a small company
Now, many of these experiences are unique to the company I was in. A lot of it had to do with how the leadership managed the company. But for us, there was always a gap between how HQ and the branch offices were treated.
This mainly had to do with leadership who had no clue what they wanted to do with the satellite office and simply didn’t want to invest in the resources or people that were critical to making things work.
Yes, they would spend a couple of thousand on events and seminars that brought in no clients, but hiring people to manage important parts of the business? Always dragging their feet.
Also there simply wasn’t any business strategy. Once in awhile someone would pop their heads up and mention this and people would nod their heads in agreement but then everything goes back to square one.
One takeaway from the situation for me was this – if businesses don’t have a strategy, they very seldom succeed. Sounds like a no-brainer but it’s surprising how so many organisations just don’t have a clear strategy.
And I were to be in a company like this in future, I’m bailing. I ain’t gonna be sitting around for half a decade to wait for someone to get their act together.
Waiting for things to happen/work to come in
This suits slackers or people who are okay coming to work just sitting around waiting for things to be given to them. Honestly.
People who are ambitious, who want to learn, experience growth and have a sense of meaning and purpose in their jobs don’t like to sit around twiddling their thumbs waiting for something to happen.
I was okay doing this for awhile. I wasn’t the super ambitious type and I liked the sort of flexibility that stemmed from getting time away from work. But there’s flexible working and there’s… not needing to work cause there’s just no work.
Yeah big difference. The latter masquerades as flexibility but is it really?
And if your job allows you to disappear so much from office you gotta ask yourself what is the point of your role even.
Also, sticking around to wait for something to happen just puts you in a very reactive, passive space. It’s like you are handing over control of your career to the company – not smart.
Another thing, you are seriously wasting your time and your life away. Particularly for people who want more from their lives and their careers. Every day spent doing nothing will turn into a month. And slowly a year would have passed you by.
As someone who valued growth and learning, this is something I regret the most – staying too long here.
Tight control on expenses
The hilarious thing about this with Company G is that they would mete out punishment to staff and threaten disicplinary action/termination (I’m serious) over small amounts of money that the staff has every right to spend (talking like less than $500 dollars here), but they won’t hesitate to throw a couple of thousand on useless events/workshops/seminars that didn’t bring in any business for the company.
They would send out emails telling staff to control expenses and in the same week throw 10K on an event. They constantly undercharged for their work too.
The blatant double standards in the way money was handled was off-putting and not only that, the way staff were treated lol, it was like we were criminals or something.
No budget for development. No development period
When a company’s relationship with money is dysfunctional and when they don’t value staff, you will find that they are miserly with development budgets.
The number of hoops you have to jump to get an okay for a cheap course shows how much they value you.
Companies that understand basic HR know that one of the keys to retaining employees these days is investing in their learning and growth. It not only makes them better in their work, but also gives the individual a sense of meaning at work (highly important) and it makes them feel valued (extremely important).
Sadly, many companies don’t understand the value of development and it is the first budget to be cut whenever there are business issues.
No bonuses or increment. It’s like you have to be happy with crumbs
There were bonuses or increment like 2 years out of the 8 years I was there, and they occurred early in my career as well. There wasn’t much increment, if any and bonuses didn’t exist.
My peers were getting their aws and 13th month and had tons of other incentives, whilst I patted myself on the back for the faux flexibility I had at work.
Granted, I did get to travel and had a host of other opportunities. But at some point, it boils down to what you want. And at some point I just couldn’t deny it or rationalised it away anymore – I wanted better compensation.
The constant denials and rationalisations of what I really wanted deep down were a reflection of my self-esteem. I am a very different person now vs when I joined. Back then, I was rather meek, kept myself small and if I didn’t get what I wanted, I told myself it didn’t matter.
Well, it does matter. It sometimes helps to be a little bit more selfish about your needs and wants. And if a company isn’t meeting your expectations, it’s okay to leave.
Small space – literally and figuratively
When yo have a small organisation, you don’t really need a lot of space for the small amount of staff. So what happens? You are stuck in a small office with people literally in your space.
You can hear every single conversation, teleconference, meeting, whatever.
I tend to like big spaces where there’s space to move around in and where employees can go off and eat lunch or do work in a meeting room or something.
So being stuck in an office where everyone was almost on top of one another was annoying and stifling.
If you don’t get along with 1 person – you are kinda dead
This goes back to my point above. In small organisations and small spaces, you are very near everybody.
So what happens if there’s this one person you seriously dislike, is extremely loud/noisy, or the both of you don’t get along? Be prepared for some really uncomfortable times ahead.
It was painful. There’s no break from this person, you literally have to interact all the damn time.
No support/resources – might have to look for things yourself
As kind of a one person part of my team in the satellite office, it was not uncommon that I had to do alot of the work myself. Work that would be done by 3 people at least.
I still remembered working on my project at the beginning of my career here and had to singlehandedly go around looking for people to interview; with NO SUPPORT whatsoever. I found it a challenge then, and I just got on with it.
Well, NO MORE. Companies that let employees do all the work on their own and have no support shows poor planning. Huge projects require the respectful number of people working on them, not one person huffing and puffing on their own, running around to get things done.
These are stuff that I think are alright to put up with at the beginning of one’s career because of the stuff that you learn from it. But then again, it will come to a point where you have to ask yourself – is this worth it? Is this what I signed up for? Do I want to work at a place that doesn’t have the necessary support?
Extra workload – taking on everyone’s stuff, doing things outside your jobscope
I mentioned this a few times here. But when you are in a small team, you tend to be more of a generalist than a specialist. You just can’t afford to be a specialist.
What this then results in is a lack of clear boundaries as to what is really your jobscope and what isn’t. Alot of the time, you’ll end up doing stuff that isn’t what you signed up for.
A lot of people in organisations like that also end up taking on colleagues’ workloads and before you know it, you will have no time to do your own stuff. Not only that, your plate might be so full that there is no end to your work.
This means that you could be as equally overworked and stressed as someone who is working in a larger firm, and you are probably the one being paid less.
No mobility/career growth
My situation was kind of unique in a sense that, all the senior folks were based in HQ. So that somehow meant that promotion prospects were literally none for me.
I didn’t mind that so much at first, because there was alot of horizontal growth and taking on other pieces of work. But like I said, it comes to a point where you gotta ask yourself – is this what you want?
I wanted a greater managerial aspect to my job but I definitely was not able to get it (despite asking about it a few times). And nobody did anything about it either, lol. Job titles matter a lot in my country, so it wasn’t good for me.
Plus horizontal growth just means taking on more work and getting paid the same. Like I said above, this is fun early in your career if you want to learn and want the exposure. But now, I know where to draw my boundaries and am sure as hell not doing more for less.
Qn to ask yourself. Is staying at your current role or such a company aligned with your highest self? Are you holding yourself back by doing so?
The reasons why you choose to stay at your company sometimes depends a lot on what you want and what you are willing to do to get that.
If a company is not meeting your expectations – do you stay or do you leave? Sometimes, when push comes to shove, you might have to make the decision to go somewhere else.
Another thing to take note of is that a company’s culture and practices can take its toll on our lifestyle and personality. Do you want a company that enables the comfortable/lazy side of you or do you want something more fast-paced?
The choices are up to you to make. But one thing is for sure, you aren’t obligated to stay at a job, no matter what society tells you about not being able to find a job.
No job is that fantastic that you have to risk your mental and emotional health just to get paid.
As for me, unless a really cool tiny company comes up in my near future. I’m never working for another one of those anymore.
I work with a very small company and I’m currently experiencing burnout from taking on everyone’s stuff. To make matters worse, the people we hired to help have said they have no intention of taking direction from me because they feel I’m not qualified to supervise them.
I don’t have power to fire them and when I bring this to the owner’s attention, I get admonished for being difficult and saddled with more work. I read your article about toxic workplaces and it is helping as I work through what to do in my situation. My last conversation with the owner left me a little shell-shocked so I’m having difficulty putting together everything for job hunting or even considering continuing work in my industry.
Hi Jane! Thanks for your message. And yes, that’s the main issue for alot of smaller companies. There are usually very little systems/processes in place for how things should be done. So it’s entirely up to the discretion of the owner (and most of them suck are running businesses or treating people tbh. most have no clue about HR). You are lucky if you get someone who is understanding but usually these people end up piling up more work onto their employees. So you are working more for less.
That sort of arrangement is great if you are at entry level imo. You get to stretch yourself and try different things, pay may not need to be at the forefront. But after that, we should be getting paid fairly for what we are doing.
That sounds like what is playing out at your co. More work for less. No respect from boss or subordinates. It’s time to draw your boundaries. And it’s time to start putting together that resume and looking out for jobs. Maybe take these couple of weeks to search around, talk to people and think about which industries you want to work in. One thing is for sure, you don’t seem to be valued here. There are jobs out there despite the covid situation. All the best to you!