Cary, N.C.-based software company SAS ticked up on this year's Great Place to Work Institute's list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For list, at Fortune.com
, rising from No. 3 to No. 2.
Even so, the company's senior director of external communications, Pamela Meek, points out that the difference between a No. 3 spot and a No. 2 spot isn't that big.
"When you get to even the top five, the choice gets really difficult," she says.
Medical staffing firm CHG Healthcare Services needn't be quite so humble this year, however. It jumped from the No. 9 slot in the 2012 list to No. 3 this time around.
"Our people immediately organized parades to help spread the cheer in every office," CEO Michael Weinholtz said of the in-house celebrations after the ranking announcement.
Just how did the two companies paw their way up the list? With wellness programs, lots of new training initiatives, and, perhaps most important, lots of open communication.
Cultures of openness
"Starting with our company intranet, our people are encouraged to interact and comment on company news and employee stories that are posted hourly by a dedicated communications team," Weinholtz says. "I've also made a commitment to keep a direct communication line open through my blog, Open Mike, where I encourage employees to post comments and ask questions as often as they'd like."
He also points to CHG's culture website, CHG Pulse, which serves as a community for employees as well as a recruiting tool.
SAS Senior Director of Internal Communications Karen Lee says the company's CEO, Jim Goodnight, shares a similar view of employee interaction. He delivers three quarterly webcasts on the state of the company and welcomes feedback from employees.
"They are given the opportunity to be heard and respect that," Lee says. "Open blogging, social media, and the ability to go out on the external Web to access Facebook, Twitter, or other sites that help our business is a huge plus."
Of course, those cultures have been part of both companies for years. What elevated both in 2012 were their respective commitments to helping employees improve their lives.
For example, SAS opened a new on-campus pharmacy "that provides cost savings to the company and the employee," Meek says.
Lee adds that SAS communicated with employees about the new pharmacy via the intranet and email. Then communicators opened up comments on the internal social network, The Hub.
"Employees were able to put their comments about the new pharmacy at the bottom of the story which then were automatically posted on the corporate intranet and social media platform," she says.
Weinholtz says CHG opened on-site healthcare centers at two of its largest offices and began offering health coaching at every one of its offices. In addition, the company provides insurance discounts to employees who earn points in a company wellness program.
SAS also began offering performance training and support networks for managers and other leaders in the company.
"If you're a leader, you're being pulled in a lot of different directions," Meek says.
The nine-week training program helped leaders figure out how they want to balance work and life and home. Groups worked out together. They heard from nutritionists. They talked about priorities. No one pushed them to live a certain way, though, Meek stresses.
Alumni groups from those courses stayed connected, she says.
"We added a 'Leaders Leading Leaders' program to our other leadership development offerings, designed to help our people continuously improve their talents, skills, and knowledge," Weinholtz says of CHG's training efforts.
Another big step this year for SAS was the addition of R&D Innovation Day, which was focused on having teams around the world collaborate to look at the broader picture.
"The pieces all have to work together," Meek says. "The challenge is you've got small teams working on different pieces of it. How do you make sure that these folks are getting together on a regular basis?"
Lee says The Hub was where all the ideas were collected.
"An article on Innovation Day was featured on our corporate intranet and followed-through by our CTO with an email to encourage innovators across the company to take Innovation Day and be creative," she says.
The biggest effect of being near the top of the 100 Best Places to Work For list again this year, Meek says, is that it drives people to maintain the culture that got SAS there.
"It's a virtuous circle," she says.
Weinholtz says CHG couldn't have the culture it does—one in which employees readily share suggestions through an online suggestion box—without a "We're all in this together" mentality.
"Every employee has the responsibility to help build and maintain our culture," he says.
Top 10 comparison, year to year
See how Fortune and the Great Place to Work Institute's top 10 companies to work for changed in the past year:
3. CHG Healthcare Services
4. Boston Consulting Group
5. Wegmans Food Markets
7. Hilcorp Energy*
8. Edward Jones
9. Ultimate Software*
10. Camden Property Trust
2. Boston Consulting Group
4. Wegmans Food Markets
5. Edward Jones
7. Camden Property Trust
8. Recreational Equipment (REI)
9. CHG Healthcare Services
10. Quicken Loans
*New to the top 10 for 2013
Matt Wilson is a staff writer for Ragan.com.