Lisa Kottler, senior vice president with NFP, a benefits advisory firm, was one of the judges who selected USP. She says she hasn't seen such a financial commitment to benefits by an employer in nearly 20 years in the business.

"It's not any one thing," she says. "They are doing many great things."

For example, she says, USP offers employees one-on-one retirement counseling and solicits feedback from workers about benefits — and actually adopts their suggestions.

"Seriously, very generous," says Bruce Elliott, manager of compensation and benefits for the Society of Human Resource Management. "I don't normally see 100 percent-paid medical. Right now, the average is 70 to 75 percent employer-paid. And that number is going south."

The typical 401(k) employer match, he adds, is 3 percent.

If the goal is worker retention, the benefits appear to be working. USP's turnover is 5 percent to 7 percent a year, Oram says.

Principal's Vandermillen says contest winners on average have a turnover rate of 9.8 percent, compared with a national average of 19.7 percent.

But Vandermillen says good benefits are more than just about retaining workers. Research shows that employees are more engaged if they feel "less anxiety about their personal finance situation," he says. And some manufacturers, he adds, notice an improvement in safety records when workers are more engaged in their work.

Given all this, I asked Hendrix why other employers don't follow in USP's footsteps.

"Sadly, a lot of companies treat their employees like commodities," he says. "We recognize the value of employees, and the talents they bring and how it benefits the mission."

eileen.ambrose@baltsun.com

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