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The winners of The Principal® 10 Best Companies for Employee Financial Security--2015 competition demonstrate just how important it is to really listen.

From product quality to customer expectations to internal operations, every aspect of business today shares one common trait: the bar is always being raised. This fundamental reality has big implications for companies that want to attract and retain the very best employees. The judges for this 13th iteration of the annual competition sponsored by The Principal Financial Group® saw this reflected in several ways—some obvious, and some less so.

One of the more subtle, yet crucial, qualities shared by many of the winning companies was the value they placed on clear communication. “An emphasis on ‘listening’ was a trait we noticed was common across many of the winning companies,” says Harry Gottlieb, founder of interactive marketing company Jellyvision and one of this year’s judges. “Many of the winners made a significant effort to listen to what their employees said they needed and wanted. And—importantly—they used that insight to shape their benefit offerings.”

While the judges paid particular attention to the efficacy of contestants’ benefits packages in providing for their employees’ future financial security, they also noted a growing emphasis on health and wellness. “We were struck by the number of companies that have begun offering such programs or have expanded them to include new features such as yoga and weight loss,” says Timothy Padovese, one of this year’s judges and CEO of Ophthalmic Mutual Insurance Company, a 10 Best winner from 2014. The judges also noted an increased emphasis on employee training and development and on work-life balance issues.

The winning companies separated themselves from the pack, however, largely due to the scope of the financial benefits they provide. As Luke Vandermillen, vice president at The Principal, points out, “The most forward-thinking companies have made the connection between their employees’ financial security and the success of their business. They understand that when employees are financially secure, they create an environment where employees can do their best work, which leads to gains in employee retention, productivity, safety, customer service, and profitability.”

Not surprisingly, all of this year’s winners offer 401(k) or 403(b) defined contribution plans with generous employer matching contributions. MSU Federal Credit Union, for example, provides a 200 percent match for the first 5 percent of pay that employees contribute to their 401(k)s, up to a maximum match of $26,500. Customized Energy Solutions offers a dollar-for-dollar match on the first 4 percent of employee contributions, up to a maximum of $10,500, and it also makes a fixed company contribution of $6,000 to each employee’s plan.

In addition to strong 401(k) plans, seven of this year’s winners offer profit-sharing bonus plans, half have employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs), and four include defined benefit (traditional pension) plans in their packages. One winner, manufacturing and warehouse management solutions developer Fishbowl, offers all three. CEO David Williams calls Fishbowl’s ESOP the ultimate motivational tool. “When employees become owners, they see the company differently. It’s very much like the difference between a homeowner versus a renter.”

By offering attractive benefits packages, employers say they reap a benefit as well: they gain a leg up on the competition when it comes to recruiting and retaining top talent. Voluntary turnover rates have been edging upward as the economy has improved, reaching 11 percent across all industries in 2014[1], but most 10 Best winners have much lower rates. Two—Customized Energy Solutions and Fishbowl—report 1 percent voluntary turnover; Alterman Group and USD Group report 2 percent rates; the International Foundation of Employee Benefits and MZA Associates come in at 3 percent, and WE Insure Group has 5 percent voluntary turnover.

On a case-by-case basis, this year’s winners also offer a wide assortment of unique benefits, often aimed at improving work-life balance. Information technology company Atrion, for example, has a game room and a library where employees can hang out and de-stress. It encourages telecommuting and flex-time; provides concierge services, paternity leave, and unlimited vacation; and employees can take advantage of an on-site health clinic. Hudson Valley FCU offers a similar suite of work-life benefits and has won multiple awards for its corporate culture, including being named one of the Best Companies to Work for in New York for six consecutive years.

Jim Steinkamp, vice president, human resources at USD Group LLC, could be speaking for any of the 10 Best winners when he describes the multi-modal logistics terminalling company’s total rewards philosophy. “We believe it is right that our employees share in the wealth they help create in our business,” he says. “Our employees, to a person, are very committed to their roles and to the success of our company. Our turnover rate is very low, and our people work well together. These elements of our culture result in gains in employee engagement and retention, productivity, safety, customer service, and profitability.”

To learn more about how you can prepare your employees—and yourself—for retirement, visit the Principal Financial Group at

The 2015 Winners:

Customized Energy Solutions                       


Honorable Mention:


[1] CompData 2014 Benchmark Pro Survey