Should I Work for a Small Employer or a Big One?

The Benefits and Downsides of Each

Should I Work for a Small Employer or a Big One?

Work for a Big or Small Employer?

By Mark Swartz
Monster Senior Contributing Writer
Statistics Canada defines a small employer as having fewer than 100 staff, while a large employer has 500 or more workers. (Medium-sized employers fall between the two).
During the course of my own career I’ve worked for employers ranging from a very small, eight person advertising agency to a huge Canadian bank with over 35,000+ employees. In each case I’ve found some real pluses and minuses.

Small Pond, Big Fish

Small employers represent the vast majority of firms in Canada: 98% of employer establishments in total! All together they employ 40% of employees in the country.

Benefits of Working For A Small Employer:
  • There are over 1 million small employers, compared to just over 3,000 large ones, so your selection when applying for a job is much greater.
  • You get to be involved in a variety of assignments at work because there are fewer extra bodies around to call on when new or different projects come up.
  • You’re closer to upper management and you may have input into more important decisions because the organization is flatter.
  • There can be a positive feeling of “we’re all in this together” when people in a smaller place of work can visibly see everyone else that’s employed there.
Downsides of Working For A Small Employer
  • You work in a fishbowl where more people can see what you do, so if you’re the type that likes to remain invisible, you may end up squirming like a fish on a hook.
  • If the owners or top managers make a few big mistakes, your employer may flounder and your job could be at risk.
  • Your employee benefits and salary may not be as generous (due to cost constraints).
  • You’re expected to pitch in to help others whenever you are idle, so slackers beware.
Some employees enjoy feeling like a bigger fish in a smaller pond. Your contribution seems to matter more and that can be quite satisfying.

Big Pond, Small Fish

While there may only be just over 3,000 employers in Canada who have more than 500 workers on board, they include many humdingers such as IBM, Canada Post, Loblaws, Air Canada, University of British Columbia and Bell Canada, all of which have 10,000+ staff members.

Benefits of Working For A Big Employer:
  • They employ nearly 60% of Canadian workers in total, so there are lots of potential jobs there.
  • There can be room for upward or sideways growth opportunities without having to leave.
  • A single bad decision by upper management is less likely to put the entire enterprise at risk of failing, so the employer tends to be more stable over time (with some spectacular exceptions like former companies Nortel and Eatons, of course, each of which once employed 10,000+ people).
  • They often pay top dollar and have robust benefits packages.
Downsides of Working For A Big Employer:
  • It can be easier to get lost in the crowd, constantly feeling like you’re a tiny part of something overwhelmingly large or faceless.
  • There are fewer reasons not to downsize or replace employees since the loss of one or more people at a time is less likely to cause lasting disruption to operations.
  • There is potential for getting pigeonholed into one defined type of role, meaning that even though there is so much going on in the overall organization, you may only get to be involved in your specific area of expertise.
  • You need to market yourself internally if you want to move around or get promoted, otherwise other people in different departments may not know anything about you.
Do you like swimming in a bigger pond even though you may feel like a smaller fish? There is something to be said about large employers with their extra resources and big pool of people to interact with.
Which Size Pond, Which Size Fish Is For You?

When I worked for that really small advertising agency I thrived on being called on to get involved in all sorts of new and varied projects. It forced me to develop new skills and knowledge. Plus I really felt like I was a vital part of the firm, despite my lower level position.

In larger employers it was good to have formal structures in place, such as a separate Human Resources department and corporate policy manuals that told you what’s what. I also benefited from extra budgets for going to conferences and getting outside professional development.

Choosing the size of employer that you apply to for a job makes a difference. Match your preferred work style, personality and life-needs to the type that will fit you best. Note that your preferences may actually shift as you enter different stages of your career. So try not to let yourself get hooked into being a fish out of water.