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AT THE OFFICE: Don't overlook the benefits of working at smaller companies

In recent years I've met many workers at job-loss support groups who were focused on replacing what they lost: a job at a big company. Why? As Willie Sutton supposedly said when asked why he robbed banks, "Because that's where the money is." The ...

In recent years I've met many workers at job-loss support groups who were focused on replacing what they lost: a job at a big company.

Why?

As Willie Sutton supposedly said when asked why he robbed banks, "Because that's where the money is."

The assumption among many workers is that compensation and benefits are better in big companies than in small or midsized ones.

That has generally been true, but the bloom may be fading on the big-company rose.

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Look around you in Kansas City and most other cities. In this recession, big companies aren't necessarily the employer of choice.

Many of the biggest employers have cut staff and, in some instances, benefits. Meanwhile, some smaller organizations have begun to offer "best practice" employee benefits, partly to be competitive hirers.

That's why it didn't surprise me when I read an NFI Research survey. It found relatively few Americans saying they wanted to work at large organizations (those with 10,000 or more employees).

In fact, 7 in 10 of those surveyed said they preferred a medium or small environment.

The survey revealed an interesting twitch in the data: The higher the respondents were in the executive ranks, the more likely they were to prefer working in a small organization.

Here's my theory on that:

In top executive ranks, the pay is decent pretty much regardless of organization size. Going after a bigger comp package is more a question of ego than true financial need.

So, while unemployed workers from lower in the corporate ranks want (and need) to replace what they lost -- and thus covet the better pay packages -- the more financially secure C-level executives have different re-employment criteria.

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They want to know they're making a difference.

In a smaller organization, it's often easier to go home at the end of the day knowing exactly what you contributed to the bottom line.

That's true for workers at all levels, of course. In a small organization, it's much easier for both the queen bee and the worker bees to stand out. (Also, the smaller the group, the harder it is to get away with being a slacker.)

Here's the takeaway:

There are some terrific small organizations out there. They're harder to find than the corporate names plastered throughout the media. Their base pay may or may not be competitive with the bigs.

But the daily satisfaction for working there might make up the financial difference -- whether you're at the top of the pay ladder or on a rung somewhere below.

(Stafford is the workplace and careers columnist at The Kansas City Star. Her "Your Job" blog at economy.kansascity.com includes daily posts about job-related issues of wide interest. She can be reached at dstafford@kcstar.com .)

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