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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Market indexes 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. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.