Big or Small Company

Dear Anita,

A few years ago, I was hired in an accounting role at a small company of about 12-15 employees. I thought the company was poised for growth. As time went by, I was gradually given more responsibility in the HR area, and I’m also the head of the company’s culture committee. Problem is, I’m feeling overwhelmed and burned out. I’m putting in hours on the weekend just to stay on top of the emails. I’m considering looking for a new job, but don’t want to get into a similar situation in another minor-league business. Should I look for a job in a bigger corporation where I won’t have to do the work of two or more people?

Big Corporation vs Small BusinessDear “Stretched Thin,”

Some companies confuse running short-staffed with running lean. Leftover hiring freezes from the Great Recession may need to be reassessed.

You are clearly showing some of U.S. News & World Report’s 6 Signs You Have Too Much on Your Plate. Before you resign from your job, schedule a tête-à-tête with your supervisor. Explain the consequences to the company of being understaffed – emails not being returned, late payments due to your workload, whatever it happens to be in your case. Provide suggestions for solutions. Can the company budget for a separate HR person, full- or part-time? Is it possible to hire an assistant? Can you use a temporary worker or a Virtual Assistant (VA)? Perhaps a payrolling service take some of the burden from your shoulders.

Really think through the decision to Stay or Quit. If you do decide to leave your company, make sure you don’t jump from a frying pan into – well, another frying pan. Larger companies may (note the italics for emphasis) be more sufficiently staffed than a struggling small business.

Check out reviews for potential employers on (granted, this is easier to do for a larger organization than a mom-and-pop shop). Watch for red flag keywords like “crazy hours,” “understaffed,” “huge workload,” “high pressure,” and the like. If there a lot of employees who have worked there less than a year before leaving, it could be an indication of a toxic environment.

You may not find much feedback online for local companies. Leverage your LinkedIn 2nd or 3rd degree connections and talk to those in your local network face-to-face (or voice-to-voice on the phone) to see if you can get the inside scoop on what’s it’s like working for the small-town business that has a job opening.

There are pros and cons to working in a big business versus an entrepreneurial enterprise. A perk of working for a large corporation with deeper pockets is they may offer better salaries and benefits, including more opportunities for personal development – conferences, seminars, or even tuition reimbursement. The bigger the business, the more they can specialize job functions, which would be an improvement over your dual-role situation. (Or would you miss wearing many hats and the diversity of duties that a small or start-up company demands?) The structure of a megacorporation provides the illusion of security, but being part of a massive layoff at a big business can affect your pocketbook just as much as being the last one hired, first one fired at a small firm. There may be more opportunities for lateral or upward movement in a robust larger business.

Lonely CubicleComing from a smaller, more nimble company, you may not be ready for the sluggish pace of change in a bureaucratic corporate machine. (It’s easier to maneuver a speedboat than a giant cruiseship!) But a company with systems in place could be a refreshing change from a chaotic start-up mentality. If you’re a people person and like the your close-knit “dirty dozen” in your small office, you may feel disconnected at a large monolith corporation where you don’t know 80% of your coworkers, who may not even be in the same state… or the same country.

Being a big fish in a small company pond means your successes may be more noticeable but, on the flip side, so will your failures. While some small start-ups expect long hours from their employees, mom-and-pop establishments may be more flexible for a better work/life balance; managers in large corporations have to enforce policies more stringently to avoid the appearance of favoritism.

Being given additional tasks you weren’t originally hired for can be disheartening, but look on the bright side. You can take your on-the-job HR involvement and translate into as little as a résumé bullet point or as large as a new career path.

Readers: Do you prefer working for a large company or a small business? Why?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tiffany Lieu
    Jul 31, 2016 @ 13:25:11

    I sympathize with “Stretched Thin” but we all have to build our professional employment sooner or later. It is not surprising so many dread professional work as it is not only very stressful but also overwhelming. And, on top of it I have noticed that it takes away me times and normal sleeping hours. The person is already at certain level of career level so it is always a good idea to try to make pace for instance.

    Personally, I have been to small and big companies mostly on short term employment tenures. For now I guess it okay whether big or small companies employ me as long as I can handle the work and can make it to the workplace.


  2. Howard Stroud
    Jul 28, 2016 @ 12:04:27

    I just want to be able to get your posts.


  3. Mary Phillips
    Jul 26, 2016 @ 09:44:20

    I have decades of office experience and would love the opportunity to work part time from home as an admin assistant, screening emails for busy execs. This post has given me a great idea as I seek to supplement my Etsy shop (handmade jewelry) income. Thanks, Anita and “Stretched Thin” !!

    Moonstone Mary


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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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