It's broadly known as engagement. And human resources consulting firm Korn Ferry's Hay Group division looked at whether smaller companies have an advantage when it comes to getting employees worldwide to go the extra yard or pull the firm out of a tight spot. "An engaged work force is more agile," says Mark Royal, senior director with the Korn Ferry Institute. "Engaged employees aligned with goals and objectives respond more effectively to change." They're less rattled by unanticipated problems and better able to respond.

Workers at smaller companies say their bosses are more flexible with work-life balance issues and cut them more slack to handle personal matters. They are also more likely to offer benefits that will meet more of their needs. Where might bigger be better? Confidence about the future, for one thing. Staff at smaller firms aren't as sure about their employer's long-term success. The research also suggests that bigger outfits score better in perceptions of product quality--something of a surprise--as well as leadership and pay.

How can smaller firms close that confidence gap? Better alignment between the work and the workers. According to Royal, engaged employees often become frustrated ones. "They are aligned with goals and objectives and enthusiastic about making a difference," he says. "But they are held back by jobs that don't suit them or work environments that get in their way."

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