By Melissa J. Anderson

Last week Fortune released it’s list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For. With generous benefits, innovative corporate cultures, and programs designed to attract and retain employees, these companies truly understand the importance of an engaged workforce.

SAS, a software firm, held its position as number one for the second year in a row, and was followed by Boston Consulting Group. Wegmans Food Market, Google, and NetApp rounding out the top five. Why are they the best of the best? What all five of these companies had in common was the indication that they understand how important human capital is. They understand their business rely, more than anything, upon the happy, healthy, high-quality individuals who work there.

1. SAS

The North Carolina-based software company retained its number one spot because, Fortune notes, employees feel cared for – literally. With on-site healthcare, child-care, and athletic facilities, as well as a car wash and beauty salon, the company goes the extra mile to show employees how important they are.

But according to Fortune Deputy Managing Editor Hank Gilman, “The most important considerations for this year’s list were hiring and the ways in which companies are helping their employees weather the recession.”

Likewise, SAS CEO Jim Goodnight said, “For 2010, I make the same promise that I did last year – SAS will have no layoffs. Too many companies worldwide sacrificed employees and benefits to cut costs in 2009. SAS took the opposite stance, and we have been rewarded in employee loyalty and overall success of the business. Maintaining this position throughout the downturn puts us in the best position to meet the expected market upturn.”

As Goodnight explained, the real reason SAS is in the number one spot is that it views its workforce as its greatest strategic advantage – and treats its employees as such.

2. Boston Consulting Group

Boston Consulting Group moved from number 8 last year up to the second spot this year because of its commitment to social work, according to Fortune. The firm’s Social Impact Practice Network provides employes the opportunity to engage in meaningful work, and even provided “on-the-ground” support following the Haiti earthquake last year.

BCG’s Chairman of North and South America, Rich Lesser said, “Attracting top talent and maintaining an environment in which they rapidly develop have been key to our success and our ability to deliver enormous value to clients. Honors like this are a nice acknowledgment that our efforts are highly unusual and, based on our growth and client retention, effective.”

In fact, BCG’s been so successful at attracting top talent, rather than facing layoffs last year, it hired its largest class of recruits.

3. Wegmans Food Market

Wegmans Food Market held its number three position again this year, and according to Fortune, the reason for its success is its focus on employee well-being. The magazine outlined how, in the past year, 11,000 Wegmans employees took part in a nutrition challenge to “to eat five cups of fruit and vegetables a day and walk up to 10,000 steps a day for eight weeks.”

Additionally, Fortune said, 8,000 opted for free health screenings provided by the company which included a flu shot and the H1N1 vaccine as well.

“It’s our people who make Wegmans a great place to work,” said CEO Danny Wegman. “They respect and care for one another and for our customers. I am very grateful and proud of what they are able to accomplish.”

4. Google

We’ve covered why Google is a great place to work on Evolved Employer in the past – raises, bonuses, free time to spend on personal projects.

But Fortune revealed a few new reasons – notably, a $175 bonus that employees can award one-another. And according to the magazine, last year more than two thirds of employees opted to show co-workers the money!

5. NetApp

And finally, data storage company NetApp moved up to number five this year, from number seven last year. Fortune mentioned several office perks – like free bagels and cream cheese on Fridays – but indicated two big reasons for its success. First off, as revenues increased by a third this year, the company hired hundreds of new employees. And second, the magazine indicated that compensation at NetApp is very enticing – with executive assistants making almost $100,000 per year.

Why is NetApp so focused on keeping employees happy? According to the company,It’s widely known that employees who are happy at work take better care of the organization and their customers. They work harder, communicate better, and cooperate more.”