Twentysomething: Problems with working at a big company

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By Ryan Healy — If there is an overarching impact my generation is already having on the corporate world, it is entrepreneurship. Roughly 80% of my friends and acquaintances plan to start their own business at some point. Both males and females, college grads and current students, everyone wants to run their own business, and many of us will.

However, it is not practical to assume that everyone will. In fact, I would bet that less than half of the aforementioned people will take the plunge into entrepreneurship. The economy needs both entrepreneurs and employees to run successfully and let’s face it, not everyone is cut out for the risky, constantly changing life of an entrepreneur.

That said, I don’t think my friends will land at large companies, either. They’ll go to smaller ones. Here are three reasons why large companies will have an increasingly difficult time trying to recruit and retain their young talent.

1. Following the crowd is boring.
To me, there is something very unsatisfying about being one of many. This does not mean that I want to rebel or move to a remote village and drop out of society. This means that I know I am an individual and I know I can achieve what I set my mind to. Because of this, following the crowd and working in a large organization with hundreds or thousands of people doing the same tasks is very disheartening.

Ben Casnocha, the best example of a young entrepreneur I can think of, sums it up best in his book, My Start Up Life. He says, “I don’t want to be normal, I want to be something else.” Simple, straight forward and to the point, this quote sums up how young, ambitious people think. These days, it’s all about going above and beyond “the crowd.” And where do you follow the crowd more than in a massive organization?

2. Bureaucracy is a waste of time.
During one of my far-too-common discussions with a friend about paychecks, raises and the corporate BS involved with them, my friend said, “I’m going to start looking for another job that pays more money. I can’t ask for a raise –I don’t even know who to ask!”

If you have a boss who reports to a boss, who reports to another boss etc. it is going to take weeks or months to get your request to the right people. And who exactly are these right people anyway? Many people I know have multiple supervisors. Which one do you ask?

I guess my friend could go to the HR department with the request, but the chances of the HR folks knowing his job responsibilities or knowing which manager to contact about the request are slim. When HR finally figures all of this out, my friend would have missed out on three or four paychecks that could have been paid at the higher rate.

So it’s not hard to understand why he is about to begin interviewing with other, smaller companies.

3. I can be a CEO and an intern at the same time.
Because of the hierarchical structures that nearly all organizations adhere to, big decisions and big-picture work happen at the top of the food chain. Smaller organizations can be much less rigid and more lenient then large organizations because of the high visibility across the organization. Even if a young person isn’t able to make the huge decision, at least they know the person who did. And they can decide if they trust the decision-maker to lead the company in the right direction.

It’s ironic that I am barely a step above an intern at my corporate job, but one could argue that I am the CEO of Employee Evolution. During the day I often perform low-level intern-type tasks, but at night I have meetings with entrepreneurs and authors, record podcasts for the Wall Street Journal and discuss my vision for the future of Employee Evolution with my web designer. It’s not hard to see why 9 to 5 at a big company probably isn’t the quickest way to the top.

Ryan Healy’s blog is Employee Evolution.

26 replies
  1. Bukola Ekundayo
    Bukola Ekundayo says:

    I used to work for a large company and it was one of the worst experiences of my life. The strict adherence to hierarchy led some people to treat me as if I was sub-human (perhaps my status as a temp had something to do with that). I agree with you Ryan, big companies will have a hard time retaining young talent but I would take your point a step further and add that smaller, more nimble companies that offer young people better working environments and opportunities will find more success (i.e. with more productive and creative people) than big companies in the long run.

  2. Jacob Share
    Jacob Share says:

    I agree with what you say, which is why I’m now an entrepreneur too. That said, I loved working at a big company – circa 1999 – and repressed any entrepreneurial intentions along the way because of it.

    Another way to look at it – if you go out on your own, is your goal to become the kind of company you hated? Keep the flame alive!

  3. Sam Davidson
    Sam Davidson says:

    I’ve recently started my own company. I did it for a lot of reasons, but not necessarily because I didn’t want to be a small fish. I think some folks with the entrepreneurial vibe can flourish as ’employees’ if they have certain freedoms in their job. This, of course, happens very rarely since large companies are slow to listen to or adopt the ideas of their young employees.

  4. dave seibert
    dave seibert says:

    Your analysis is disappointing… sounds like another “me” generation outlook. there are many “old” office decorums and traditions to growth that can help “young” as well as “old” workers develop experience, a meaningful work ethic, and other beneficial attributes for both the indiviual and the business…talk about some good virtues like commitment, hard work (what’s wrong with intensity!), and actually learning. How can business, any and all types, be effective if everyone sees job-hopping as a means to success….get real and chill….

    Your measurement of success is not illuminating…flavor of the month advise.

  5. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    I’m all for entrepreneurialism. Good luck to you!

    But I think the difference between a large company and a small company is overstated. It depends on corporate culture rather than size. Some small companies are stuffy and hierarchical, while some large companies are dynamic and exciting.

  6. Recruiting Animal
    Recruiting Animal says:

    Ryan,Will you give me ten dollars the day you start working at a big firm? And I guess we’d better decide on what big firm means now so you can’t define it out of existence when it comes to paying up.



    Beat you to it.  I already work for a large organization.  Does that mean you owe me ten dollars?


  7. Ralph Bucher
    Ralph Bucher says:

    Don’t be deluded by the freedom in being an entrepreneur. It may be a lot easier to walk away from a Big Company job than from customers and the people who financed your business.

  8. Mark
    Mark says:

    I can’t believe that you are equating (by inference) being CEO of a blog to being the CEO of any significant. Now THAT’s ironic…

  9. Jacqui
    Jacqui says:

    Wow. Generally, I agree with you, Ryan. But I want to qualify that with saying I think Caitlin is dead-on. My office of 35 people (hardly a large corporation) has a pointless heirarchy and lack of innovation that won’t quit, on top of other less than desirable cultural issues.

    It’s really less about size, and more about the culture we associate with the size.



    Both you and Caitlin make a good point.  Culture is probably more important then size.  Because I work for a large organization, I can only discuss my experiences.  It is often hard to even identify a culture in a large organziation.


  10. Chris
    Chris says:

    Not to be a picker of nits, but there is a flaw in your logic.

    Statement #1: “Roughly 80% of my friends and acquaintances plan to start their own business at some point.”

    Statement #2: “These days it is all about going above and beyond ‘the crowd’.”

    If 80% of people are doing it, isn’t that what “the crowd” is doing? Previous posters have said it more eloquently than I, but the truth is that it’s not so much the SIZE of the organization, but the organization itself that is the issue.

    Case in point: my best job ever was in a 150 person division of a huge consumer electronics company. It had all of the pluses of a startup without the instability.

    I’m just saying.



    Going above and beyond refers to actually doing something different.  Wanting something is what the “crowd” is doing.  I look at the whole corporate thing as a game. You win when you finally get out and do your own thing.  If and when I do make it, I will have gone above and beyond the “crowd.”


  11. Danielle
    Danielle says:

    I’m currently working at a global investment company, which would put me in the “big corporation” category. However, my department/group is relatively small, and has afforded me countless opportunities to really get involved in projects. I know fellow co-ops who haven’t been as lucky, subjected to fetching bagels and answering phones. And that’s not to say that other divisions of my corporate are as flexible as my department.

    So, yes, it has a lot to do with the group/company culture and atmosphere. This is precisely why interviews are so important, in my opinion. Ask the questions! What kind of projects will you get to work on? Dig around, find former employees, do the research.

    No matter what the size of the company you work for — whether you’re the boss or an intern — there are going to be pros and cons. I would say it’s more important to decide which of the pros are more important to you and how that company’s structure fits in with your life. Maybe working for a large corporation means they have on-site daycare, so then it would be okay for you to work long hours, because you kid would be there with you. It’s about finding your right fit, your balance.

  12. karry
    karry says:

    Sorry, no. I never see myself going back to a small company. I hated always wondering if this was the time that my paycheck was going to bounce, knowing that there was no set ‘review’ time (so raises could be avoided), and no 401(k) or other benefits.

    Maybe it’s just me needing the reassurance of a Fortune 100 company’s backing, but I like working at a big company with its big training department *and* tuition reimbursement!

  13. Jacqui
    Jacqui says:

    Karry – there’s definitely risk involved with working in a start-up, but not all small companies are start-ups. Some are very successful at meetings the needs of a niche market and can offer the same stability of a Fortune 100.

    What’s even better is that your potential is limited by heirarchy and culture at a larger firm, but with a small company, the sky is truly the limit. (Even more so if you have the guts to ride the wave of the start-ups.)

  14. karry
    karry says:

    Hi Jacqui, I’m sure a lot of my decision is purely emotional (3 layoffs/company closings in one year will really mess with your budget), but after being employed by 3 smaller companies (50,000) I’ve found that I have much more opportunity with the large ones.

    I can talk to people in other departments off the record and find out not only if they have positions available, but whether my personality would be a good fit in the department culture – before even having to speak to a hiring manager.

    In a big company, I’ve found that I have the option of going over or around a bad manager – something that is an impossibility in a small company. I also get twice yearly official reviews with merit increases and constructive feedback, insurance (medical/dental/vision and life), and a variety of projects because of the sheer scope of the company.

    I honestly don’t mind generally working only 8-5 and Monday through Friday (with a lunch hour and paid vacation/sick time!) in a cube farm. When I worked in a small company, we always ate in, worked crazy hours, and still got to watch our projects get ‘nuked’ by our owner/CEO’s ineptness.

    I am confident enough in myself to know that it doesn’t matter if I follow the crowd in my job – I can wear black on the inside.

  15. Ellie
    Ellie says:

    Ryan, as always I enjoy hearing your opinions. But I have to disagree with you this time, almost entirely. I just don’t believe that there is any black and white in terms of large versus small companies. I am not surprised that you enjoy the blogging work, it must be exciting to have so much control over what you say, and get noticed by big media outlets. It doesn’t surprise me that the day job that pays the bills doesn’t provide that. But I don’t think you would be able to change that just by moving to a small company. Do your research, maybe it could be a move at your current company, or else the right position at the right new company, that gives you credit for the skills that you have developed blogging.

    1. Starting your own company–is a big commitment of energy. I know Penelope writes about how easy it is to start one, etc., but to keep one going that is your major source of income is often a lot of work. I remember my father working at his own law firm while I was growing up, and he was never home. Now he works at a large firm and is also never home with his new family, but he makes 3 or 4 times the salary and is near retirement age. By the way, my dad loves practicing law (I often read here how many people hate it, but all the lawyers in my family are really happy in their careers).

    2. Working in a big company may have the downsides that Penelope writes about, having to climb ladders, dull work, hierarchical, miniscule raises. But there are good sides–great benefits packages, clear policies and procedures, perks like tuition reimbursement and association dues, networking opportunities, support system/network at the job (coworkers) and chances for mentors.

    3. Working in a small company can be a lot more politics than you are used to, personalities of the CEO may pervade everything, you may get pigeonholed in your first week–by everyone, less benefits/perks, at my last small company there were no networking opportunities–my bosses disliked the community of groups working in the field so we never did anything together, there were no prof. associations etc., job responsibilities may not be clear and may include tasks like coffeemaking, answering phones etc. for everyone, you will reinvent the wheel a lot because there is no one you can ask about the things you need to do. At the end your position may not exist anywhere else, so if you want to move on it may be difficult for you to find a spot and sell the skills you acquired.

    And Jacqui, I have to disagree with you. The sky may not be the limit at small companies. The limit may be the CEO’s vision. You have to do the homework in advance before taking any job.

    I could go on and on but I’ll stop myself here.

  16. Scot Herrick
    Scot Herrick says:

    The key theme in these 17 comments is: it depends. It depends upon the current manager and culture in the big corporation. It depends on how expansive or limited opportunities are in the small business.

    Without the data in front of me, the largest variables in job satisfaction have to do with the person’s manager and whether the employee believes the work they are doing makes a difference.

    If you take those two criteria, the frame becomes: where do I consistently find good managers and does the work I do right now make a difference?

    That can be both large and small companies.

    Large companies re-org more frequently, so the manager criteria is more problematic. In small companies, a bad manager is a bad manager and there is less ability to maneuver to fine a good manager. The work you do contributes? Large or small, it is dependent upon culture.

    I just don’t think this is about size of company, having your own company, or whether it is a small company.

    The criteria is: manager effectiveness and engagement in the work.

  17. ADAIDM
    ADAIDM says:

    The economy sure changes things. In this day and age, anyone who has a job, period, is lucky, no matter if the company is large or small or even on the verge of bankruptcy. I was working at a dental practice for sale, and glad to have the job, until the company finally went under. Now? Freelancing is the best way to make money. Not quite an entrepreneur per se, but still my own boss.

  18. Chennai Dental Hospital
    Chennai Dental Hospital says:

    When I was working for a big corporate hospital the preasure was enormous to cope up as there was soo much expectation built u by the company to perform where as after starting my own firm , it was all different!!.

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