Do you like your job? Do you like your bosses? If so, why?

These are the key questions behind this special publication by The Baltimore Sun.

During these unsettled economic times, learning what makes workers happy is crucial information for companies. Budgets may be lean, but firms can take affordable steps to improve their employees' morale — sometimes it can be as simple as learning the workers' names or sharing information. That's not only good for employees; a company's bottom line also can benefit from happier workers.

To arrive at answers to the key questions, The Baltimore Sun partnered with WorkplaceDynamics — a Philadelphia- and London-based consulting firm that has conducted employment research for more than two dozen U.S. newspapers — to perform a confidential survey of hundreds of workers in this area.

The Sun invited 1,245 firms to participate in the poll. Of those, 117 were surveyed, with 15,625 employees completing questionnaires this summer.

Once the results were in, The Sun interviewed workers and managers at nine top-scoring firms — the three leaders in each of the categories of small, midsize and large companies.

Our list of the 75 top-scoring firms begins on Page 16, and an explanation of the survey's methodology is on Page 5.

Several conclusions can be drawn from the survey results and anonymous employee comments: Workers are happy when they feel their company is going in the right direction. They value career opportunities and flexible schedules. They appreciate clear communication, having autonomy, and being heard and valued by managers.

Employees said they enjoyed meaningful work. "I feel like I am a part of something big," wrote one.

A word that appeared frequently in the comments: "family."

"I am part of a large, caring family."

"Working here is like a second family for me."

"My work family is as important to me as my very own family."

Bottom line: Establishing and maintaining a fully functioning, engaged workforce is about more than just money and benefits. Those things matter, of course, but heightened employee morale can also result from things like flexible work hours, or even intangible factors like a workplace's physical layout.

Wrote one employee, using the Chinese term for "vital force": "The whole building has positive Chi. The environment is serene, accommodating, comfortable and fun."

What's not to like?

We hope you enjoy this magazine, and we hope you'll consider nominating your company next year. And please spread the word!

Dave Rosenthal

Business Editor

The Baltimore Sun