At Bloomington-based Prime Therapeutics, employees can qualify for reduced health insurance premiums for improving their health and for financial incentives of up to 30 percent of salary for meeting performance goals.

But the overriding factor that makes Prime Therapeutics one of the top workplaces among large companies in Minnesota is the way employees are treated on the job.

Employee engagement comes through loud and clear as a top priority among the top large company workplaces in the Star Tribune's fourth annual survey. In survey responses, one employee said: "Encouragement is constant, gratitude is shown often." Said another: "Recognition is given when good work is prevalent, and coaching is given when standards are not met."

"We believe that employees understand what we are trying to accomplish and feel a sense of ownership," said Eric Elliott, CEO of Prime Therapeutics, the nation's fourth-largest pharmacy benefit manager. "Our employees know their voice matters. If you ask a question, you will get an answer."

The privately held company is owned by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota as well as "Blues" in 12 other states. In 2012 it managed $12.4 billion in prescription drug spending. Prime Therapeutics, with nearly 1,400 Minnesota employees, ranked 17th among the top 30 big workplaces, up from 19th a year earlier.

Karin Eason, a clinical review pharmacist, started at Prime Therapeutics in May. Friends who are also clinical review pharmacists encouraged her to apply.

"They said it offers a really good balance between personal life and work life and that it provided the opportunity to really use your skills as a pharmacist in a clinical setting, which can fall by the wayside in a retail setting," said Eason, who left a retail pharmacy job at Fairview Pharmacy Services.

Prime Therapeutics even allows its employees to work from home. "That is unheard of in my industry," she said. "That is extremely flexible."

The No. 1 spot went to broker Edward Jones, which traded places with last year's top workplace, Keller Williams Realty, which ranked second.

"We see Keller and Edward finishing at high levels around the country,'' said Doug Claffey, CEO of survey firm WorkplaceDynamics, which partners with the Star Tribune and more than 30 newspapers around the country. "It seems that they have figured out a formula for having a highly engaged workforce.''

Eleven of the top 30 are private companies or partnerships, eight are publicly traded, eight are nonprofits, two are cooperatives and one is a government entity.

That government entity is SMSC Gaming Enterprise, the unit of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community that operates the hugely successful Mystic Lake and Little Six entertainment complex. SMSC rose to No. 25 on the big company list this year. Last year, it was among the 60 national standard setters — companies that scored high enough to meet the national benchmark set by survey firm Workplace Dynamics but not high enough to reach the top 100.

"We place an emphasis with communicating with our team members," said Bill Denker, SMSC's director of human resources development. "We have a weekly and monthly newsletter and postings on a TV bulletin board and the Internet to let them know what's going on.''

Such interaction between employee and employer is integral to a positive work environment, said Theresa Glomb, a professor of organizational behavior at the U of M's Carlson School of Management. "Communication is a key part of an employer's relationship with employees. It provides transparency around what the company is doing, and that promotes consistency."

She added, "Employees want a sense of control and autonomy. They don't want to be micromanaged. They want a sense of competence and that they are making progress on their goals."

The highest-ranking newcomer among large organizations is St. Francis Regional Medical Center of Shakopee.

At fifth-ranked St. Francis, President Mike Baumgartner sends out a weekly note to staff on Fridays that often includes patient feedback — the good and the not-so-good. Employees also abide by a staff-written "Standards of Behavior" for patient care and the hospital's vision. "We work hard to keep this a community hospital, but we also are really a metro hospital," said spokeswoman Lori Manske. "We take great ownership in St. Francis."

David Phelps • 612-673-7269