Keeping employees motivated (and satisfied) is an eternal challenge, as HR professionals from the biggest global conglomerates to the newest Silicon Valley startups will attest. But as these companies show, it's not impossible. In our second annual ranking of the 50 Best Small and Medium-Size Companies to Work For, we asked our partners at Great Place to Work to determine the top small businesses in the U.S. that have created unique cultures and great workplaces on par with those that appear on our 100 Best Companies list. Though the perks may be similar -- stock options, free food, yoga classes, and unusually generous benefits programs -- there's one big difference: They have under 1,000 employees.
1. Professional Placement Resources
Jacksonville Beach, Fla.
The pet-friendly staffing agency places nurses in temp jobs in all 50 states -- and provides private housing and travel reimbursement.
*Between 25 and 249 employees
2. Talent Plus
Rather than performance reviews, employees of this global HR consulting firm have career investment discussions with managers.
3. Ruby Receptionists
Revenue: $7.8 million
The quirky virtual agency provides reception services to small businesses. A five-year milestone is rewarded with a five-week paid sabbatical.
4. Granite Properties
Revenue: $153.3 million
New hires at this commercial real estate manager are paired with a tenured field buddy, who gives them tours of the company's properties.
San Ramon, Calif.
The "dream manager" at this engineering consultant helps colleagues plan personal and professional goals, from home buying to careers.
6. Badger Mining
There are few titles and there is no corporate ladder at this family-owned sand extractor, where profit-sharing bonuses are handed out every quarter.
7. Studer Group
Gulf Breeze, Fla.
Revenue: $60.2 million
The founder of this health care consultancy sends gift cards to recognize birthdays: Employees receive $75, and their kids (under 18) get $25.
Glen Allen, Va.
The online employment site rewards tenure with vacation packages on big anniversaries. Ten years are celebrated with a week in the Bahamas.
9. Dixon Schwabl
Revenue: $29.3 million
Not one but two house bands rock the headquarters of this advertising, marketing, and public relations agency near Rochester.
Revenue: $19.2 million
All employees of this maker of generic prescription drugs for pets are urged to volunteer with local nonprofit charities on company time.
11. The Clymb
Staffers at this outdoor retailer take wellness to another level: They interrupt their work to do group planks at least once a day -- or more.
12. City of Rancho Cordova
Rancho Cordova, Calif.
Revenue: $71.9 million
The municipal government of this Sacramento suburb eliminates bureaucratic red tape by allowing staff to make many decisions.
13. Radio Flyer
Revenue: $85 million
The 96-year-old little-red-wagon company is still a family-owned business, currently led by the third generation of the Pasin family.
14. Blach Construction
Santa Clara , Calif.
Revenue: $125 million
Field supervisors at this commercial builder give gift cards for smart decisions. Job excellence is celebrated at lunch with senior managers.
15. Insomniac Games
Software designers at this independent videogame maker get unlimited paid days to attend developer conferences and entertainment expos.
Revenue: $7.9 million
Staff meetings at this web research firm begin with yoga or stretching and end with outdoor exercises; smaller meetings are walk-and-talks.
17. Kahler Slater
Revenue: $15.8 million
The design firm boasts two CEOs, who host monthly breakfast gatherings for staff to share coffee and watch a specially chosen TED talk.
18. Sage Rutty
Revenue: $10.5 million
The 98-year-old financial services firm has a small-town feel: Each fall it hosts a chili cook-off to benefit breast cancer research.
All new hires of this enterprise-software developer are given a travel voucher to take their families on vacation before beginning the new job.
20. Decision Lens
Revenue: $8.5 million
This software designer takes staff on unusual trips to see how other teams work -- including a visit to the U.S.S. Eisenhower aircraft carrier.
Revenue: $16.8 million
Staff of this software maker who travel for work extensively have had their families flown to meet them -- all on the company's dime.
22. Integrated Project Management
Burr Ridge, Ill.
Revenue: $22.1 million
The consulting firm covers 100% of health care premiums for employees and dependents. Bonuses of $5,000 are paid for hiring referrals.
23. Alvarado Street Bakery
Revenue: $28 million
This organic bakery, founded in 1977 as a small hippie baker in the Bay Area, invites staff to become part owners and offers profit sharing.
Revenue: $21.2 million
Three times a year employees at this software maker for nonprofits take a two-week break to form new teams and develop ideas.
Eric Mosley, CEO of this HR consulting firm, discusses its recognition programs in his new book, The Crowdsourced Performance Review.
Revenue: $982.9 million
The regional insurer has no cap on tuition reimbursement for job-related classes. Staff can vie for one of 130 plots in an onsite community garden.
*Between 250 and 999 employees
2. Intuitive Research & Technology
Revenue: $187.4 million
Military-contract consultant takes job applicants to meet the client during the interview process, since most employees work on location.
3. Riot Games
Videogame developer hosts quarterly Thunderdome hackathons that allow Rioters to test out pet projects on gamer colleagues.
4. Return Path
New York City
Revenue: $58 million
In addition to stretch bonuses for taking on extra responsibilities, this email software developer awards annual stock option grants.
5. Pinnacle Financial Partners
Revenue: $206.2 million
All employees are invited to join a book club, which meets a few times a year to discuss business books -- often at the home of the CEO.
6. Assurance Agency
Revenue: $59.4 million
Last year staff of this insurance broker were invited to run a 5K. Everyone completed it and earned a 2% salary bonus and $600 in cash.
Revenue: $63.5 million
Accounting firm offers an 11-month year to full-time employees, who may trade pay for additional time off, separate from paid vacation.
Tysons Corner, Va.
Revenue: $113 million
Free food is the culture at this online custom T-shirt designer, which provides two meals to the staff each week, in addition to snacks.
9. Clif Bar
The maker of energy bars and organic foods holds to its sustainability mission with a $6,500 incentive for purchasing hybrid or eco-friendly cars.
10. Holder Construction
Revenue: $1.1 billion
Associates who move for out-of-town projects are offered a variety of relocation benefits to make the transition easier for their families.
11. Cirrus Logic
Revenue: $426 million
Music is in the heart of this maker of audio gear and tech products: Employees get VIP treatment and tickets to the South by Southwest festival.
12. Eileen Fisher
Revenue: $368 million
Everyone gets the same percentage salary increase at this retailer instead of raises tied to performance. Profit sharing is also divided evenly.
Traverse City, Mich.
The world's biggest insurer of classic cars and boats allows employees to collect points for outstanding work and redeem them for gift cards.
14. ESL Federal Credit Union
Revenue: $165.5 million
The CEO of this credit union, started by Kodak founder George Eastman in 1920, goes on "road shows" to pay personal visits to staff.
Revenue: $256.5 million
The maker of promotional products has no offices and a laid-back culture -- even the president wears a white T-shirt and blue jeans to work.
16. Walker & Dunlop
Revenue: $256.7 million
Last year 27 employees at this financier of commercial real estate projects received $2,000 each for reaching three years of service.
Revenue: $39 million
Once a month employees at this maker of sales and marketing software are given a catered lunch and released from work at 2:30 p.m.
New York City
The headquarters of this medical tech company has an office rec room, replete with arcade games, Ping-Pong tables, and a hammock.
19. Lincoln Industries
Revenue: $120.4 million
This metal finisher encourages employees to get outside the factory. This year more than 200 took a free mountain-climbing trip to Colorado.
20. West Monroe Partners
Revenue: $65.4 million
Employees at this tech consultant come up with their own titles. Not surprisingly the position of chief beer brewer has already been taken.
New York City
Revenue: $93.7 million
The financial consultant insists that everyone take a two-week vacation each year -- $1,000 bonuses are given for taking 10 consecutive workdays.
22. LeasePlan USA
A Fun at Work committee at this fleet manager plans special events such as goofy golf, Ping-Pong tournaments, and turkey bowling.
The online marketplace for handmade artisanal goods is a beehive of hipster activity and creative expression. (See full story.)
24. DELTA Resources
Revenue: $43.1 million
The defense contractor allows unused time off to be paid out as a lump sum at the end of the year -- unusual in any industry.
Revenue: $300 million
The U.S. subsidiary of the London-based consumer research firm conducts twice-yearly Innovation Fridays to improve workplace practices.