Every year business journals and Internet Web sites produce lists of "the best places to work" compiled from employee surveys, management interviews, and the observations of professors and financial reporters. Whether a company rises to the top of a person's personal list depends on his or her particular job preferences. For example, you might value a laid-back workplace and decentralized management. For you, a company that offers that kind of environment (other things being equal) might be considered one of the top places to work. Someone else might instead prefer a hard-driving, more intense firm. He or she might find your company tedious and boring.

Studies have consistently shown that compensation, although important, is not the primary factor that makes workers stay at a company. It's not all about the money. In fact, some firms that provide stellar compensation packages suffer high turnover, low morale, and dwindling market share. Others — including smaller companies that may not offer tip-top benefit packages — maintain a loyal and dedicated workforce that regularly contributes to the company's success. In fact, many studies show that happy workers provide more efficient production, better customer service, and greater innovation. They're also less likely to quit or call in sick.

Want to make your company one of the best places to work? Here are four keys.

  • Respect. In the best companies, employees matter and they know it. Providing employees with necessary training, acknowledging outstanding work, creating a healthy and upbeat workplace — these show team members that they're valued.
  • Fairness. The best companies treat employees equitably. This applies, of course, to hiring and promotion decisions, but might also include sharing the firm's success through a structured bonus plan.
  • A sense of pride. Most people enjoy working with a team that accomplishes something significant. Create this type of work environment and you'll foster company loyalty. Strive to make everything you do — and everyone you employ — an integral part of the firm's mission.
  • Opportunities. No one looks forward to a dead-end job. Give your workers an adventure to anticipate. Find ways to expand their horizons. For example, you might provide cross-training to develop new skills or encourage innovation.

Even if you can't offer the best compensation package on the planet, satisfied workers can help propel your company forward. And they'll let their talented friends know that your company is one of the best places to work.

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