Why smaller companies have better culture

Recent research shows that employees at SMB's and startups tend to give their company culture a higher rating. Here's why.
Why smaller companies have better culture
Sharne McDonald

Having worked at small companies and startups for 10 years now, I’m the least qualified person to talk about what it’s like to work for a large established company with hundreds or thousands of employees, offices scattered over many locations and a CEO that you never get to meet in person ❌🤝

What I can talk about though, is what it’s like to work in small teams with flexible hours/work days and a T-shaped role in the company.

One of the key factors to workplace happiness, is the opportunity to keep growing. This is especially true for younger employees who are ambitious, need constant stimulation and will often take on a job because of a particular skill they want to learn, or for the experience they want to gain (read more on the inner workings of Millennials).

In my experience, I’ve learnt a vast array of skills whilst working at small companies and startups, and have grown in areas I never dreamed of exploring (like co-organising DisruptHR events). As a creative person, I’ve also always appreciated the flexibility and quick decision-making when working in smaller teams. I’m continuously researching new ways to solve problems and learning new software all the time.

No lengthy forms. No bureaucracy. Transparency within teams. If something doesn’t work, change it.

Breegan Harper (Formerly Snap Inc., Amazon, Soda) argues that when it comes to startup culture vs enterprise culture, startups have more of an advantage because of what they offer their teams:

  • You start with a clean slate. A smaller team of passionate people who don’t have to deal with the history, red tape & bureaucracy that burden larger organisations.
  • Startups tend to hire a core team of experienced people. This means there’s a great opportunity to grow a more intentional company culture in the startup environment.

What the research says

We’re doing research to benchmark employee happiness in companies across the globe. One of the key findings so far is that most of the employees at smaller companies (0–100) say they have an “Awesome” company culture (32%), compared to employees at large enterprises (1001–2000+) who rate their company culture as “Average” (39%). The majority of employees at medium to large-sized companies (101–1000) rate their company culture as “Pretty Awesome”.

It’s clear that the size of the company has a big role to play in a person’s experience of the culture. Let’s check out the other top happiness factors to get some more insights into why.

The top five happiness factors at work

  1. Doing meaningful work 🙏
  2. Professional growth 📊
  3. The culture of the organisation 🎉
  4. Providing customers with excellent service 🥇
  5. Good relationship with co-workers 🙌

For me, all five of these factors are tied directly into experience at smaller companies, although all of these are of course possible and present at larger enterprises, too! There just seems to be so much more autonomy, space for innovation & collaboration and buy-in from employees when they work for a small company.

When it comes to culture and a good relationship with co-workers, it’s much easier for a team to stay tightly-knit when you’re able to cram all of them into a minibus, café or meeting room —teams who eat together, stay together.

It’s the difference between building the company, or just being another brick in the wall.

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