On Whole Foods' heavy roster of employee-friendly policies—for instance, no executive at Whole Foods makes more than 14 times the average hourly employee's pay—nothing stands out as much as the company's employee-designed benefits plan. In 2003, the granola set's grocery chain of choice decided to put the entire package, from medical plans to vacation time, out for a companywide, 25,000-person vote. After three rounds of voting (and an 87% turnout) employees voted for a health plan that takes nothing from their paycheck and offers cash to cover out-of-pocket expenses. (Dependents get the same treatment after five years.)
The trade-off: Vision and dental care come with heftier charges, and perks like childcare reimbursement were voted down. Even in a time of spiraling health-care costs, Whole Foods is again handing over the purse strings to employees, putting the benefits plan out for another vote in February. "Happy team members make happy customers," says Walter Robb, Whole Foods' copresident. "Our job as management is simply to make that a reality."
See the full 2005 Customers First Awards.
A version of this article appeared in the October 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.