Caregivers who work for Right at Home senior care services always receive birthday calls from one of the owners, even on weekends. It's a small thing, but one of several ways that the Bloomington-based company shows its appreciation for workers and helps retain them.

Right at Home is one of 13 companies that has made the Star Tribune's list of Top Workplaces each of the six years it has been produced.

Retention of employees becomes an even bigger issue for companies as the economy continues to recover. Workers surveyed by WorkplaceDynamics listed flexibility, benefits, empowerment, team spirit, training and helpful bosses as reasons they love their employers.

Making Right at Home workers feel welcome and wanted is especially important, said Paul Blom, CEO of Right at Home, because of the company's mission of helping senior citizens who want to stay in their homes but need companionship and light housekeeping.

"Our clients are elderly, often have cognitive issues, and adjusting to change is more difficult for them," Blom said. "The more staff turnover we have, the less positive of an experience our clients are going to have."

Right at Home employs about 220 people, with nine full-time staff in its main office.

"Compared to others in our industry, our turnover is about one-fourth normal," Blom said. "We've always understood that all we have is people."

In addition to competitive benefits, the company sends welcome cards to new hires, sponsors a summer family event and pays for an evening at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres in January that features an annual company report as well.

Another six-time winner is Hammer Residences Inc., a nonprofit organization in Wayzata that provides services to those with disabilities.

The nonprofit staffs 36 group homes and 10 apartment programs, and provides other services. Hammer CEO John Estrem said one of the challenges in such a decentralized system is to make its 500 employees — about 350 of them "direct care staff" — feel like they're part of a team. The company sponsors four all-employee meetings each year to bring people together, as well as regular manager meetings to share information and weekly staff meetings in each home.

Because the work is challenging and not lucrative, Estrem said annual staff turnover in the industry is typically about 33 percent; Hammer Residences is half that.

Another high achiever is Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare, with 1,400 employees at its independent, nonprofit hospital in St. Paul, five outpatient clinics and 18 outreach clinics around the state.

Gillette specializes in serving children who have disabilities and complex medical conditions, said Kit Brady, vice president for human resources, education and guest experience. That mission both attracts employees and drives their passion to stay, she said.

"They can see the positive patient outcomes firsthand, and they have a sense of the difference that they're making in the lives of their patients and their families," Brady said.

Human resources manager Laura Nicosia said that an improving economy has led to an increase in turnover for most employers, and in how long it takes to find the best candidates for jobs. So, Nicosia said, Gillette Specialty's reputation and expertise are important.

Brady said new employees receive special attention, because turnover rates in many occupations are higher than normal during the first year. "If you don't feel welcome when you start and you feel lost … that can just start sending somebody down a road to feeling like they don't belong here," Brady said.

Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388