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When and why is small beautiful? The experience of work in the small firm

Chin-Ju Tsai, Sukanya Sen Gupta and Paul Edwards

Human Relations, Vol. 60, 12, 1779-1807


Small firms account for a substantial proportion of employment in advanced economies; yet understanding of the quality of jobs in them remains poor. Studies using national-level data find that indicators such as autonomy are high but find it hard to say why. Analyses within small firms stress the structuring of jobs and not size as such. Data from 384 employees in small firms from three contrasting sectors are used to test three hypotheses. 1) There is a pure size effect; such an effect was found in such areas as good relations with managers, and explained in terms of the informality of small firms. 2) Size is in fact a proxy for other influences; there was little evidence of this. 3) Factors not associated with size are more important; features such as autonomy and work pressure reflected sectoral differences and not size. Overall, qualified size effects were found, suggesting the continuation of traditional small-firm relationships.