Best Bosses

Five leaders who use innovative strategies and rewards to motivate employees.

By Elaine Pofeldt, Fortune Small Business senior editor

NEW YORK (Fortune Small Business) -- You can offer all the benefits in the world, but the one that matters most to employees is a piece of the action.

Of the 18 honorees in Winning Workplaces' fourth annual Best Bosses competition, 14 run companies partly or completely worker-owned.

That reflects a broader trend. The National Center for Employee Ownership estimates that 9,225 companies were offering stock-option plans, stock bonus plans, and profit-sharing plans as of July, up from 7,600 in 1999.

Winning Workplaces is a nonprofit in Evanston, Ill., that helps small-business managers improve their communication skills to make workers more productive and happier.

It assembled a team of respected judges, who culled the 80 applicants by looking at factors such as employee satisfaction ratings and by interviewing workers. The result? Eighteen Best Bosses - 17 from commercial companies and one from a nonprofit.

From companies that offer free gourmet dinners during crunch times to a boss who lends top performers the keys to his convertible, see five of the winners and what makes them stand out.

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How good a boss are you?

For a complete list of winners, go to winningworkplaces.org.

Also see Fortune's Best Companies to Work For. Winners include: Genentech (Charts), Cisco (Charts, Fortune 500), Microsoft (Charts, Fortune 500), Amgen (Charts, Fortune 500) and Intel (Charts, Fortune 500). Top of page

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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer.

Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2014 and/or its affiliates.