Benefits

What Small Businesses Provide That Larger Companies Cannot

This holiday season it’s important to be grateful for a lot of things: your family, your country, your security, your health. And if you work for a small business you should also be grateful too. Because, in many ways, you are in a much a better place than someone who works for a large company.

Take Linda (I’m changing her name here, of course). She works for a client of mine, a company that manufactures custom parts for the medical equipment industry. The company, which is family owned like most small businesses, employs only 42 people. Linda has been working in the customer-service department there for about 10 years, answering calls, facilitating orders, sending out quotes and resolving shipment issues.

Related: Secrets of a Third-Generation Family Business Where Families Come to Work

Recently, Linda found out that she had breast cancer.

As I write this, no one really knows how bad her condition is. It could be at a very early stage. She will have surgery next week. She may need a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. Her course of radiation may be months and if she needs chemotherapy it’ll be much longer.

She will go through very hard times during the next two years. She will be sick, tired and scared. She will miss a lot of work. And when she’s at work she will not be herself. Linda is a strong woman and she’ll beat this. It will be a long road. But one thing’s for certain: thank goodness she’s working for a small company and not a large one.

To be sure, there would be no less concern or sympathy for her condition at a large company. But there would be more rules and procedures. There would be a human resources department. There would be a specific number of vacation and sick days allowed to her, according to the company’s policies. There would be disability insurance that would cover a portion of her salary. There would be little flexibility or favoritism.

When you work at a company where thousands of other people work, there can be no favors, no accommodations, no preferred treatment. Because once you do something for one employee it’s inevitable that others will ask for the same. Then when they don’t get their way there’ll be arguments and lawsuits. Because of this, big companies have to have rigid rules.

Not so at Linda’s company. This is not to say that small companies don’t have rules. Of course they do. But at a small company, there is much, much more flexibility. On hearing of Linda’s diagnosis, the company’s owner immediately told his controller (they have no human resources department) that he will do “everything possible” to support her. He personally sat down with Linda and told her that the company will continue to pay her salary and that she should take “whatever time she needs” to get well. They would work around this problem.  They would fight her cancer together.

Related: If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em: Why Two Competitors Joined Forces in the Fight to Beat Cancer

Of all the other worries that Linda has to deal with right now, she never has to worry about the safety of her job or the loss of income while she goes through her treatments. Small businesses can do this for their employees. Large companies cannot.

Would all my small- and medium-sized clients react the same way as the owners of Linda’s company? I think 98 percent of them would. Maybe things would be different if Linda hadn’t worked for the company for more than 10 years or if she was an inadequate employee. There are probably a very few owners who are insensitive to her plight and would make her stick to the company’s vacation and sick day policy, assuming there is one. But this is not the norm. At a small company there can be a different set of rules.

Large corporations certainly value their employees. But when there are 10,000 or more their individual value amounts to much less than at a small company. Compared to a large company, when you work for a small business, you know the owners. You see and talk to the bosses every day. You become part of a team and are vital to the company’s success. You have more flexibility and more opportunities to contribute, grow and succeed.

For better or worse, you are more quickly noticed. You are more respected and valued, especially if you’re good at what you do, because an owner suffers more if you leave. There is usually less turnover and so your fellow employees stick around longer. Many become like family. The owners become like family. And no time is this more apparent than when something befalls you.  A relative dies. A child needs to be picked up at school. Or a doctor tells you that you have breast cancer and you’ll be missing a lot of work.

When Linda eventually pulls through and beats her cancer she’ll have many reasons to be grateful. And one of those reasons is that she worked for a small business.

Related: Small Businesses Can Offer Big Benefits to Attract the Best Talent