To this day, small and medium-sized enterprises are the secret weapon of Germany.

Peter Altmaier

I have already made the decision to focus on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) or medium-sized enterprises (owner-managed) through my doctorate. The main differences with large companies are the focus on often rapid growth, low budgets, short decision-making paths and the “myth” around the founder. Now one wonders in the evening of some days: where should I work? Where are people happier? In SMEs or large companies?

Reading tip: Differences between SMEs and large enterprises

To shed more light on this, the Stepstone 2019 portal (Q2) surveyed more than 19,000 specialists and executives from all over Germany and obtained exciting results through a significance analysis, i.e. separation of results by large companies and SMEs. I would like to summarise the most important ones below.

Reading tip: Link to the study

Professionals are the backbone of companies and it is important to motivate them through job satisfaction and to keep them in the company. But how satisfied are skilled workers really up-to-date in their jobs? In the following I present the main results of the study from the categories:

  • Security/Image,
  • Salary/benefits,
  • Career/Hierarchy,
  • Internationality and
  • working climate.


According to the study, 81 percent of the professionals surveyed have already applied to an SME. According to the study, one in two said that employment in an SME was preferred. Only one in 10 respondents aspires to a career in a large company. Overall, more than 80% of the professionals surveyed who work in an SME currently feel safe and do not believe that the job is in danger.

In conclusion, according to the study, SMEs often seem to be preferred when choosing a job.

Salary/additional benefits

I like to throw a pot of salary and additional benefits. Often, additional services such as a laptop or a smartphone can amount to more than an additional monthly salary, as you do not have to buy it or the possibility for home office can be better than 5000 Euros additional annual salary. I would like to highlight both in the following.


When it comes to achieving the highest possible salary, large companies clearly score points against SMEs in the study. On average, the salary is 26% less than in large companies. According to the study, 38% of respondents have already decided against a job in an SME on the basis of salary.

However, you can also earn above-average in small businesses. Academics have an average gross income of 62,200 euros gross for companies with a maximum of 500 employees, according to the study. In particular, a job in the management of an SME can result in salaries of more than 100,000. Particularly well-earned also

  • Sales Manager (82,500 Euro),
  • Senior Consultants (74,500 Euros),
  • tax advisor (70,000 euros) or
  • Sales engineers (64,000 euros) in SMEs.

Salaries in SMEs are often 26% lower than in large enterprises, but in some cases they can also earn above average in SMEs.


Often, large companies offer more social benefits, such as occupational pensions or a daycare place, due to the higher budget. While 34 percent of Group employees value these additional benefits with their employer, only 19 percent of middle-class respondents believe that their employer stands out with special additional benefits. Home office and flexitime are particularly emphasized.

The focus for SMEs is on non-monetary additional services such as home office. Large companies often offer special additional services in the monetary sector.

Career and Hierarchy

Thirty-eight percent of all respondents employed by an SME particularly appreciate the flat hierarchies in their company. In large companies, only 22 percent think their employer scores with flat hierarchies.

Reading tip: Career in SMEs

Opportunities for promotion and promotion in SMEs are also often much easier and faster. Especially due to the rapid growth of many medium-sized companies, jobs are quickly vacant. About 20% say that it is mainly the long-term growth in business.

Those who want a job with a high level of individual design and a family atmosphere are often in good hands in SMEs.


Almost a third of Group employees value the international environment in their job. Only one in five employees of a SME finds international projects in their job, as SMEs often operate either regionally or completely internationally (e.g. world market leaders).

SMEs are often more likely to operate regionally or globally in smaller projects. Large international projects tend to be part of large companies.


In the study, 23 percent of large companies speak of a good working environment. In SMEs, on the other hand, 45 percent appreciate the family atmosphere and short decision-making paths. The experts surveyed rate as special advantages:

  • flexible working hours,
  • short decision-making paths,
  • Teamspirit,
  • flat hierarchies,
  • meaningfulness and effectiveness, as well as
  • high individual scope for design.

The better one’s own action is visible on the final product, the easier it is to understand the effectiveness and usefulness of the work, according to the study. In SMEs, their own work on the product is often more visible than in large companies.

Furthermore, skilled workers often want to be able to make independent decisions and carry out their tasks as they see fit. According to the survey, such freedoms are often much more pronounced in SMEs than in larger enterprises.

Employees in SMEs appreciate the flexible working hours, short decision-making paths and the higher sense of work.


There are almost 3.4 million small and medium-sized enterprises in Germany, which can convince with applicants with flat hierarchies, working atmosphere and even from time to time with high salaries. For me, a great deal of room for manoeuvre, home office, a Macbook and a lot of change as well as the compatibility with my part-time doctorate is important. That was the reason why I have only worked in SMEs and have a doctorate on them.

This is my opinion now and surely corporations and large companies also have exciting tasks/working atmosphere/salaries/etc. I believe that in the end the decision has to be assessed individually by each individual. Tell me in the Poll: Where do you work?

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I blog about the impact of digitalization on our working environment. For this purpose, I present content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday work. I am a manager in an SME myself and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the chair of IT Management.

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