Big firms vs. independents: who gives employees the best deal?

stone - workplace feature 070406 - cogs
 Picture: Stone
DO YOU feel like a number in a strict corporate set-up and if so, is this outweighed by the security of working for a big company? Or is the flexibility of being employed at an independent agency overtaken by lack of promotion opportunities and poor benefits?

With the industry split between huge companies and a desire for more niche independent agents, the benefits and respect companies give you is key to where you work.

At Thomas Cook, employees can stay within the company in a variety of roles if they choose and there’s opportunities to go on educationals, take advantage of social activities and networking.

Independents argue that’s all very well but staff are not close to their customers, there is limited job satisfaction and corporate reorganisations can take place at any time which could lead to enforced redundancies.

Pay levels tend not to differ too much but pensions, healthcare and other benefits are a factor and the bigger firms are better placed to offer these. However, a small company can offer closer relationships with managers, better customer relationships and can be more responsive to change.


workplace feature 070406 - thomas cookCRITICS of big travel companies say employees can be just a number and could feel the corporate axe at any moment.

But manager of Thomas Cook in Peterborough Joanne Richards disagrees and says working for a big company gives security and offers opportunities to move jobs if she decides to.

She also says a recognisable name helps to bring in the customers and a bigger network allows useful contacts and ideas to be made and exchanged.

Richards said: “I’d much rather work for a big company such as Thomas Cook than an independent.

“The company name is reassuring to customers and encourages people to come into the store. It’s also good to have contact with other agencies in the region to talk about what’s happening and share knowledge.”

Richards said big travel firms could offer better benefits than smaller companies. Another plus is that areas such as IT and marketing were handled centrally, leaving the agent to sell holidays and concentrate on core activities.

“As an employer, Thomas Cook offers a lot of excellent benefits, including good holiday discounts, and it’s good to know there are job opportunities in different stores and other areas of the company if I decide on a change,” she said.


TRAVEL Designers is just three years old and was set up by Nick McKay to meet the growing demand for tailor-made upmarket holidays.

The company, based in Clapham, south London, is about as far removed as you could get from high-street agents in terms of size, its outlook on the industry and key clients.

McKay worked on his own in the early days before building up a team of four. It is this small number which he says allows him and the business to be successful.

“We know our clients well and have a good rapport with operators and hotels, which does give us more repeat business,” he said.

McKay said the fact it’s a small team makes them try harder for customers and they feel it personally when something goes wrong.

He added: “Staff are far more hands-on than they would be with a bigger company and can be more focused to do well and gain promotion. We do welcome nine-to-fivers but look for people who will go that extra bit further.”

Staff are also encouraged to try new tactics, such as dropping brochures off at clients’ homes and giving them as much personal attention as possible.

On the plus side, McKay said staff had good access to educationals, he could react quickly to change and he welcomes suggestions from the team on how the company can improve.


A big company is good for:

*Job security
*Promotion prospects
*Consumer trust
*Team social activities

…but not so good for

*Being just a number
*Arbitrary job changes
*Inflexible working
*Remote management
*Slow to implement change

A small company is good for:

*Speed of market reaction
*Personal input into company
*Management response
*Client rapport
*Partner relationships

… but not so good for

*Lack of promotion
*Central systems such as IT and marketing
*Company benefits
*Work load
*Possible buyouts

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