The 100 Best Companies To Work For These employers show no signs of cutting back on their commitment to employees.
By Robert Levering and Milton Moskowitz Reporter Associates Julie Schlosser and Jessica Sung

(FORTUNE Magazine) – The economy is shifting into a lower gear. You know that much. So what does that mean for the 100 Best Companies to Work For, FORTUNE's annual list of employers that know how to treat workers right? Have they closed down the company health club? Revoked pet insurance? Sent the masseuse packing? Actually, no.

The companies on this year's list, our fourth, still come bearing perks to entice the best and brightest. A sampling: 26 offer on-site day care; 29 offer concierge services, like dry-cleaning pickup; 47 offer domestic-partner benefits to same-sex couples; and 31 offer fully paid sabbaticals. And in case you thought these companies weren't desperate for good workers, consider this: 83 offer bounties to employees for recommending new hires. Top dollar for a referral: $15,000 at three of our companies.

Managers like Jim Wall, head of human resources at Deloitte & Touche (one of the companies offering $15,000 hiring bounties), see no letup in the pitched battle for talent. There are just more jobs than people, especially in firms like his that need highly skilled workers.

That's certainly true at Fenwick & West, the Silicon Valley law firm that shot up to seventh place from the 41st spot last year. The fierce competition for lawyers has meant that when one firm raised salaries of incoming staff attorneys by 30%, to $125,000, Fenwick had to do the same, says Cheri Vaillancour, Fenwick's human resources director. A few months later another firm announced a perk: an investment program for all attorneys. Fenwick quickly followed suit, and then upped the ante by extending it to all non-attorney staffers.

Granted, a Silicon Valley law firm may represent an extreme example. So we also interviewed executives at a wide variety of other 100 Best Companies. All of them shared Fenwick's perspective. The labor market is still tight. Even at construction company Graniterock and supermarket Whole Foods--where a lot of service workers or manual laborers are employed--managers say they are still having trouble finding enough employees. And it is getting harder to find companies that don't require some knowledge or skill. Jack Walters, vice president of HR at Alcon Labs, says that the people who mix compounds on their assembly lines now need more than a high school education. "We don't need people who work like robots anymore," he says. "We need people who watch robots."

How do these companies maintain an edge in such an environment? One word: culture. That's the mantra repeated by the 100 Best firms. "Nice perks may help somewhat in recruiting, but to keep people here we've got to demonstrate that we offer a culture where they are respected and treated as adults, one that shows people that we really do care about them," says Patricia Brown of First Tennessee Bank, a leader in innovative family-friendly benefits.

Creating a culture is not a simple matter. Nor is every culture the same among the 100 Best. Far from it. In this issue, we take a look inside two of our companies, Microsoft (No. 37) and Medtronic (No. 83). Although Medtronic is sometimes referred to as the Microsoft of the medical-device industry, the similarities end there. In "Smart Is Not Enough," writer Mark Gimein gets inside the culture of "electedness" at Microsoft, while in "A Human Place to Work," senior writer David Whitford explores how four people with very different jobs all find something meaningful at Medtronic.

This year we introduce a new piece of information in our 100 Best charts: salaries. We asked the companies to provide us with the entry-level salary for both professional and production or service workers. The companies provided the salary for the job classification with the largest number of workers in each category. For the specific job titles, links to the companies, and a customizable ranking form, turn to If you're looking for a new job, these companies could be just the place for you.

REPORTER ASSOCIATES Julie Schlosser and Jessica Sung