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If there’s one thing St. Louis’ top workplaces these days have in common it is this: They offer their employees something more than just a paycheck.

Freedom and flexibility. Work/life balance. A sense of purpose. Those were common threads among the anonymous comments made by workers at many of the highest-rated companies in the Post-Dispatch’s annual survey of Top Workplaces in St. Louis.

Indeed, when asked what they liked best about their workplace, employees at top-rated companies were about twice as likely to say they felt “genuinely appreciated” at their job and confident in the direction of the company as they were to talk about pay and benefits they earn for working there.

That’s no surprise, said Pete Foley, head of the Employee Research Group at human resources consulting firm Mercer. It’s not that paychecks don’t matter. Obviously they do. But when it comes to creating enthusiastic, engaged employees, money alone can’t buy you love.

“Pay and benefits have got to be at a minimum level, and then you’re on to other things,” Foley said. “You want to know you can develop, have a sense of accomplishment, feel like you’re making a difference.”

Many of the companies that took part in the Post-Dispatch survey are relatively white-collar, but the same concerns about development and dignity are seen across the spectrum of business. When local fast-food workers launched a one-day strike last month, their complaints were as much about working conditions and treatment by supervisors as they were about higher wages.

That’s not surprising, Foley said. Surveys have long shown that the way people are treated at work means at least as much as their compensation. Often more.

“All over the world, any industry, what you see time and time again is fairness and respect,” he said. “I want to be treated fairly and I want to feel like I’m respected.”

And as the job market slowly improves, that sense of respect becomes even more important.

The last few years of recession and sluggish recovery have generally given companies the upper hand in the age-old tug-of-war between employers and their employees. Many companies have pared back benefits, cut wages and spread more work among fewer people. A lack of better options meant workers often had little choice but to take it.

Still, even during the bad years, said Matthew Grawitch, assistant professor of organizational studies at St. Louis University, some companies found ways to remind employees that they are valued, be it through peer-to-peer recognition programs or length-of-service awards or even a simple “thank you.” Now that hiring is starting to pick up, even those modest efforts are paying off.

“Organizations that thought creatively about how to show workers they’re valued are the ones where people aren’t jumping ship,” he said.

And it’s not just about retention.

Companies with more engaged employees tend to be more productive, and therefore profitable, than their counterparts, said Grawitch. That engagement can’t always come in the form of top-down incentives; much of it derives from building a culture where people are driven to do well for their own reasons.

“If you really want to figure out how to take your organization to the next level, it becomes: How do you create an environment where people are intrinsically motivated to succeed,” he said. “Everything else trickles down from there.”

Of course, different workers are motivated in different ways, and want different things out of their job. For baby boomers, said Foley, that might mean a more generous benefits package. For younger workers, said Melinda Alison, St. Louis regional vice president at staffing firm Robert Half International, it often entails a greater degree of flexibility than the traditional deskbound 9-to-5.

“With Generation Y, they’re coming into interviews with an expectation of telecommuting and flex time,” she said.

And for all the drama earlier this year about Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer’s ban on telecommuting, there’s at least some research to show working from home can pay off when it comes to being plugged in. A recent Gallup study found that workers who spent one day a week working remotely actually felt more connected to their job than those who always worked in the office — though returns diminished from there.

There are other ways companies are trying to make workers feel valued: Everything from internal recognition programs to awarding the CEO’s parking spot to a top performer. They’re little things, Alison said, but they can go a long way.

“Raises are always appreciated,” she said. “But just saying thank you is important, too.”

Size Company Founded Ownership Sector Locations Employees
1 Large Nestle Purina PetCare Company 1894 Parent company Consumer Goods 1 1727
2 Large Edward Jones 1922 Partnership Financial Services 451 4902
3 Large Missouri Baptist University 1964 Private College / University 10 797
4 Large Francis Howell School District 1881 Government Primary / Secondary School 25 2557
5 Large St. Luke's Hospital 1866 Non-profit Healthcare - Hospitals 1 3600
6 Large Cassidy Turley 1926 Private Commercial Real Estate 7 793
7 Large Graybar Electric Company, Inc. 1869 Private Wholesale Distribution 3 814
8 Large Wentzville R-IV School District 1953 Public Primary / Secondary School 18 1872
9 Large Bryan Cave LLP 1873 Partnership Law 2 662
10 Large St. Louis Children's Hospital 1879 Non-profit Hospitals 1 2955
11 Large Wells Fargo Advisors 1887 Public Brokerage 5 4000
12 Large Mercy Hospital - Washington 1976 Non-profit Healthcare - Hospitals 1 657
13 Large St. Charles Community College 1986 Government College / University 1 742
14 Large Accenture 1989 Public Consulting, Technology Services, Outsourcing 1 538
15 Large Savvis 1995 Public Managed Services & Outsourcing 3 958
1 Midsize St. Louis University High School 1818 Non-profit Education - Primary / Secondary School 1 158
2 Midsize Four Seasons Hotel-St Louis 1961 Private Hotel 1 224
3 Midsize Northwestern Mutual 1857 Private Life Insurance, Annuities, & Retirement Investm... 3 166
4 Midsize Nextstep For Life Inc 1980 Non-profit Developmental Disabilities Support Services 11 155
5 Midsize Lockton 1984 Private Insurance Consultants & Brokers 1 163
6 Midsize Supplies Network, Inc. 1991 Private Wholesale Distribution 2 181
7 Midsize Valley Park School District 1882 Government Primary / Secondary School 1 206
8 Midsize Simmons Browder Gianaris Angelides & Barnerd LLC 1999 Private Legal Services 2 194
9 Midsize Daugherty Business Solutions 1985 Private Custom Software Development & Consulting 1 384
10 Midsize Brown Smith Wallace LLC 1972 Partnership Accounting 3 204
11 Midsize Scott Credit Union 1943 Non-profit Credit Union 16 209
12 Midsize ADB Companies, Inc. 1995 Cooperative/Mutual Utilities & Telecommunications 2 175
13 Midsize ELANTAS PDG, Inc. 1919 Private Chemicals / Paint 1 169
14 Midsize First Community Credit Union 1934 Non-profit Credit Union 38 407
15 Midsize Schlafly Beer 1991 Partnership Brewery and restaurants 2 168
16 Midsize Youth In Need 1974 Non-profit Child, youth & family services 35 316
17 Midsize Paraquad, Inc. 1970 Non-profit Center for Independent Living 1 177
18 Midsize InteliSpend Prepaid Solutions 1997 Parent company Prepaid Reward Solutions 1 155
19 Midsize Tech Electronics Inc 1963 Private Life Safety & Communications Sub-Contractor 1 184
20 Midsize LookAfter Hair Company 1985 Private Health & Beauty Services 32 179
21 Midsize RK Stratman Inc 1983 Private Printing 1 254
22 Midsize HDIS 1986 Private Medical Supplies/Consumer Products 1 255
23 Midsize New Balance Athletic Shoe, Inc. 1906 Private Apparel / Footwear 2 177
24 Midsize Whole Foods Market 1980 Public Food / Grocery 2 370
25 Midsize Gasconade R-II School District 1843 Government Local Government 1 282
26 Midsize Maryville University Of St. Louis 1872 Non-profit Education - College / University 3 373
27 Midsize Schneider Electric 1836 Public Electrical Equipment, Appliances, & Components 1 166
28 Midsize Brewer Science Inc 1981 Private High Technology (Manufacturing & R&D) 1 255
29 Midsize Epworth Children and Family Services 1864 Non-profit non-profit 3 200
30 Midsize Eagle Bank and Trust 1911 Private Commercial Bank 12 219
1 Small Rossman School 1917 Non-profit Education - Primary / Secondary School 1 52
2 Small Wood Brothers Realty 2011 Private Agents / Brokers 1 91
3 Small Great American Corporate Dining 1998 Private Restaurant 1 54
4 Small Renaissance Financial Corp 1994 Private Financial Advisors 1 80
5 Small Schicker Automotive Group 1938 Private Auto Dealership 8 80
6 Small National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse - St. Louis Area 1965 Non-profit Human and social services 3 50
7 Small Brown & Crouppen Law Firm 1979 Private Law 6 107
8 Small ARCO Construction Company, Inc. 1992 Private Building Construction 1 82
9 Small The Container Store 1978 Private Retail 1 63
10 Small Burns & McDonnell Engineering Company, Inc. 1898 Private Architectural, Engineering, and Construction Svcs 1 128
11 Small McClure Engineering 1953 Private Engineering 1 59
12 Small Mosby Building Arts 1947 Private Building Construction 1 73
13 Small Carmody MacDonald P.C. 1981 Private Law 1 68
14 Small Copying Concepts 1975 Private Value Added Reseller 1 69
15 Small Isle of Capri 1992 Public Gambling 1 122
16 Small EPIC Systems, Inc. 1995 Private Engineering solutions for manufacturing 1 50
17 Small Perficient, Inc. 1998 Public Information Technology 2 102
18 Small Fry-Wagner Moving & Storage 1908 Private Relocation & Logistics 2 90
19 Small Lutheran Hour Ministries 1917 Non-profit Christian Media Outreach 1 107
20 Small GL group Inc. 1974 Private Wholesale/Children's Education 2 130
21 Small KnowledgeLake, Inc. 1999 Private Enterprise Content Management Software 1 113
22 Small S. M. Wilson & Co 1921 Private Construction Management 1 93
23 Small Hubbard Radio Group-St. Louis (WARH-WIL-WXOS) 2011 Private Broadcasting 1 126
24 Small Coldwell Banker Gundaker- Hwy94@Mid Rivers 2002 Partnership Agents / Brokers 1 87
25 Small Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri 1914 Non-profit Human and social services 3 54
26 Small Royal Canin USA 1968 Private Pet food 1 127
27 Small CTA Inc 1990 Private Direct Selling 1 81
28 Small Rodgers Townsend 1996 Public Advertising 1 66
29 Small Schaeffer Manufacturing Co 1839 Private Manufacturer and marketer 1 79
30 Small The Health Group 1989 Private Health Insurance 1 81
31 Small Phoenix Textile Corporation 1983 Private Healthcare Distributor 1 106
32 Small Central Christian School 1958 Non-profit Elementary School: 3 years old - 6th grade 1 50
33 Small Med Assets Inc 1999 Public Professional Services 1 50
34 Small Classic Aire Care 1926 Private Heating, Cooling, Plumbing and Drain Cleaning 2 65
35 Small Ascent Corporation 1998 Private Data Center Design, Engineering & Operations 1 103
36 Small Ungerboeck Software 1985 Private Enterprise Software 1 117
37 Small American Poolplayers Association 1981 Private Hospitality, Entertainment, Recreation, & Travel 1 52
38 Small Budnick Converting, Inc. 1952 Private Manufacturing 1 68
39 Small Abstrakt Marketing Group 2009 Private Business Growth Company 1 93
40 Small GroupM 2003 Public Digital media and marketing 1 66
41 Small Cornerstone Mortgage, Inc. 1995 Private Mortgage Banker 5 112
42 Small AEP River Operations LLC 1977 Public Barge Transportation on the Inland Waterways 1 103
43 Small Second Street 2002 Cooperative/Mutual Custom Software Development & Consulting 1 50
44 Small Fifth Third Bank 1858 Public Finance 1 140
45 Small Jerry Kelly Heating & Air Conditioning 1977 Private Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, & Refri... 1 62