Despite the tough economy, to remain competitive when it comes to finding and keeping top talent many small businesses still offer benefits such as medical insurance and paid time off. Yet, one trend Winning WorkplacesInc.'s partner for the Top Small Company Workplaces award—noticed when evaluating applicants during the 2010 award cycle was how many firms that rose to the top and were named winners use benefits outside the typical package offerings. Here are five of them, along with individual companies' implementation details:

1. Sabbaticals, both paid and unpaid. Providing employees time to improve their professional skills, and/or to become more worldly people, is not as uncommon as it used to be. Still, the 2010 award winners change up this practice by playing with the variables of weeks offered based on years of service, in addition to offering it with or without pay. Outdoor clothing retailer Patagonia, based in Ventura, California, provides 16-week, unpaid sabbaticals at every year of service.  Meanwhile, Pittsburgh-based technology consultancy MAYA Design offers six weeks of paid leave at five years of service.

2. Childcare beyond assistance and referral options. Recognizing that with more members of multiple generations in the workforce with each passing year, many workers have families to support—and that companies can help themselves boost average employee tenure while accommodating these folks in this regard—some firms budget for childcare assistance and referrals. Few get creative when it comes to this benefit checkbox. Helping you think differently are Waltham, Massachusetts-based A Yard & A Half Landscaping, which provides breastfeeding/pumping accommodations for mothers; and St. Louis-based general contractor Tarlton Corporation, which has a family room furnished with books and games on their premises where children can spend the day. Aforementioned Patagonia offers adoption assistance of up to $5,000 per employee and has an on-site childcare center.

3. Ambitious health and wellness programs. You've probably heard of companies that offer free healthy snacks or walking programs with free or low-cost pedometers for workers; maybe your firm offers one of these health/wellness benefits. You can go further, though, and reap the returns of more productive employees who have fewer unscheduled absences. Air quality consultant All4 in Kimberton, Pennsylvania, ups the ante from snacks to full meals, enlisting a vendor to deliver ready-to-eat healthy dinners that employees can elect to purchase and take home to their families. San Diego-based e-business strategy consultancy Red Door Interactive offers on-site seminars on both stress and time management, and electronic ID technology supplier Biomark, based in Boise, Idaho, went so far as to intentionally locate their office to allow for a maximum number of workers to walk or bike to work.

4. Unmatched flexibility in flex work arrangements. Market intelligence provider IDC has predicted that this year almost three-quarters of the U.S. workforce will be mobile. This trend is no doubt fueled by studies from other firms which have found workplace flexibility remains a top priority of jobseekers. Award-winning small companies which have embraced this trend, and benefitted from a more reachable workforce that can provide better product development and customer support, include previously mentioned A Yard & A Half, which lets religiously observant employees opt to work a company holiday and take their own religious holiday off with pay; and Daphne, Alabama, water, wastewater, and natural gas services provider Daphne Utilities, which allows workers to work split duty in divergent job descriptions in order to satisfy their personal needs for challenging work (one example being a receptionist who works half duty as a meter reader to have some time outside the office).

5. Other offerings based on what makes workers' lives easier. Your mission and strategy likely revolve around making your customers' lives less complicated in some way—why not apply the same principle to your benefits offerings? You will no doubt increase your reputation as an employer of choice, helping to keep your recruiting and retention costs low. Victor, New York-based advertising and marketing firm Dixon Schwabl offers both a Defensive Driving Day for employees with an auto insurance provider, and a free financial consultation with representatives from several financial services firms to encourage employees to invest in their future. And Ginger Bay Salon & Spa in Kirkwood, Missouri, offers the extremely-uncommon-for-their-industry benefits of legal assistance and identity theft protection.