In his novel "Anna Karenina,'' Leo Tolstoy observed that "Happy families are all alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.''

Amid the Great Recession of 2009-2010, the Star Tribune and the Pennsylvania research firm WorkplaceDynamics set out to identify the Top 100 Workplaces in the Twin Cities. What we found in our first workplace survey underscores Tolstoy's oft-quoted observation: Good employers share similar traits that workers consider important. Not-so-good employers are not so good in their own peculiar ways.

This survey is about companies whose employees have awarded high marks. It's a "good-to-great'' ranking, not a "worst-to-first'' competition. Companies chose to take part in the survey process.

So what's most important at these high-performance workplaces? According to employees, they value feeling ''genuinely appreciated,'' believing that the organization is "going in the right direction'' and having "confidence in the leader of the organization.'' Meanwhile employees ranked pay and benefits below concerns about their company's strategic direction. Some find this surprising. But Douglas Claffey, CEO of WorkplaceDynamics, said pay and benefits are minimum expectations -- the ante to the game.

Put another way, Claffey said: "You can't pay people more to remain engaged in a lousy workplace.''

WorkplaceDynamics started by contacting 1,020 employers in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. To qualify, companies had to have at least 50 employees and agree to allow employees to take a confidential survey. In all, 169 companies participated and 33,193 employees were surveyed, using either paper surveys or an on-line application. Thirty percent or more of employees were surveyed at firms with 400 or fewer workers, Larger firms had the option of conducting a random sample of at least 400 workers.

Experience has shown that smaller employers tend to score higher than midsize employers, and midsize employers tend to score higher than large employers. The reason? The smaller the company, the more likely employees are to know and interact with top management on a regular basis.

WorkplaceDynamics ranked the employers within their size band based solely on the employee responses. The top employers in each size band were selected as the 100 Top Workplaces in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area for 2010. They employ 84,696 workers in Minnesota. There was no charge to companies or employees nor was any compensation paid to them.

If you know of a company that deserves to be considered for next year's Top Workplaces ranking, go to