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The Friday Five: Signs You Suffer from 'Big Company Syndrome'

Posted by Scott Kirsner  November 13, 2009 07:30 AM

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cubicles.jpgOn Fridays, I often post a list of five things, and ask invite you to build on the list by adding more good stuff in the comments.

This week, it’s the five signs that you may have Big Company Syndrome. Big Company Syndrome usually starts to emerge as soon as small businesses pass the 100-person mark, and employees usually contract it after just a few weeks on the job at a Big Company.

You're afflicted by Big Company Syndrome if:

    - You can’t remember the last day that you didn’t attend at least one internal meeting.
    - Keeping tabs on corporate politics (who’s up and who’s down in the eyes of the CEO or various division heads) occupies at least 20 percent of your mental energy at work.
    - Your inbox is full most of mostly-worthless e-mails on which you’ve been cc’ed by colleagues, and you maintain a mental list of co-workers who are so incompetent that you’d be more than a little happy to see them laid off.
    - Getting the word "senior" added to your title feels like a major accomplishment.
    - You can’t recall the last time you’ve been to a cocktail party, conference, or networking event that isn’t directly connected to your employer.

Now, I know there are lots of good things about working for a Big Company, like health insurance and the occasional sales convention in Las Vegas.

But there are two negatives I’d highlight:

1. Once people contract Big Company Syndrome, they don’t do enough networking outside of their Big Company. As a result, if they’re ever laid off, they tend to have a rough time quickly creating the connections that will lead them to their next job. (I get these desperate e-mails every week from ex-Big Company employees asking me whether I can have lunch, help make introductions, suggest events they should go to. I feel for these folks, but really, this is something you should’ve been doing over months or years, while you were employed.)

2. People suffering from Big Company Syndrome are so heads-down, devoting so much time to their important Big Company job, that they forget about doing the things that keep our innovation economy vibrant, like going to college campuses to talk to students, or sharing their expertise with entrepreneurs who are launching new companies. That’s a shame, since better connections with students would help their companies hire the best and brightest, and there are lots of start-ups that could use guidance on sales, hiring, and operations from people with Big Company experience.

Last week, I met a long-time AT&T executive who was struggling to recover from Big Company Syndrome. He knew almost no one who hadn’t worked at AT&T at some point, and he was totally unaware that on any given night in the Boston area, you can pick from a half-dozen great events that bring together techies, investors, and entrepreneurs. He seemed a little detached and glassy-eyed, but I hope he’s gonna make it.

Do you have Big Company Syndrome? Are you recovering from it? What are the other symptoms? (I know there are more than five…)

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12 comments so far...
  1. Your colleague emails - you for a coffee break, to have a meeting, etc - even though you sit in the next cube.

    Posted by November 13, 09 10:35 AM
  1. Here's another: long-time big company employees who become fixtures. You're so used to seeing them, like a lamp, that when they leave for the day at 3:30 p.m. for an out-of-office "meeting," you don't even notice they are gone.

    Posted by Jim Barbagallo November 13, 09 10:50 AM
  1. Big company syndrome is thinking that your company provides you security, when in fact it is ones skills, accomplishments and who knows you and thinks you are great.

    At smaller companies you can see trouble coming much sooner. At big companies you can get whacked with no warning even when the company is doing well, as happened at EMC when they let go a lot of people after a record quarter.

    Posted by ts November 13, 09 11:04 AM
  1. Here's another symptom : Your job description has more influence on what you do than "what needs to be done?" does. (I'm pleased to say I've been Big Company free for a year now.)

    Posted by Cyndi H November 13, 09 11:06 AM
  1. When someone outside your company asks what YOU think about some issue, your reply begins, "Well, we..."

    Posted by Andrew Tarsy November 13, 09 11:09 AM
  1. Don't forget the cubicle is running out of space and they need to reorganize their office, so suddenly everyone gets their own 3.5 walled prison. Nothing kills an open culture faster.

    Posted by Jason Evanish November 13, 09 12:27 PM
  1. I work for a big company (15000+) but in a small office (15+ or -). It's has been the best work experience I've ever had.

    Posted by joe November 14, 09 12:20 AM
  1. "Now, I know there are lots of good things about working for a Big Company, like health insurance and the occasional sales convention in Las Vegas."

    Thank you for your objective and balanced look at big vs. small companies. I must be living in a different world than yours - I work for a great company (for employees, customers and investors) which happens to be a Fortune 500 company. If I'd have shared your preconceived ideas, I would have never found them.

    I agree that there are some disfunctional companies, big and small. Plus, every one of your 5 signs is happening daily at a small company near you. It's not the size - it's the culture and the quality of the compay leadership that makes the difference....

    Posted by HBX November 14, 09 09:15 AM
  1. Along the lines of the article, for a fun evening, maybe consider to go see the local production of !
    My 11-year-old son and I attended once and plan to attend again - it was a blast, and now he knows the type of big-company syndrome his dadbert had to deal with.
    check out for a humorous audience-participation approach to BIG COMPANY SYNDROME.

    Posted by dadbert November 14, 09 10:08 AM
  1. ...You ask someone for help, assitsance, guidance in some regard. You don't hear back for days, then you get an email that has been passed along to at least 1/2 dozen people asking your original question. Scrolling to the bottom you see your original request at the origin of the message....

    There are no shortage of circular references at The Big Company.

    Posted by BNTR November 14, 09 02:29 PM
  1. Symptom: You come across a pivotal new book that transforms your industry - and then you realize it was published ten years ago.

    Posted by Jay Levitt November 14, 09 04:22 PM
  1. Symptom: At least 10% of your work week is consumed by repetitive training that asks you to simply read and attest to the SOP even though it has nothing to do with your job.

    Great post!!

    Posted by Renee Robbins ( November 16, 09 11:31 PM


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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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