What makes a credit union a great place to work? We all know that CUs treat their employees much better than most other financial services firms (including those that start with the letter "B"). But what really separates the wheat from the chaff? What do employees say about working for credit unions and what do they want?

Earlier this year, Credit Union Journal invited credit unions of all sizes from across the nation to participate — at no cost — in a study conducted for us by the Best Companies Group, which yielded the ranking we feature in this issue's Special Report. 

Not everyone involved the study made the cut. Eligible candidates had to be credit unions chartered in the United States with at least 25 employees. CUs that failed to meet Best Companies' criteria for being a "best place to work" were kept off the list. The rest were ranked against their peers in one of four categories based on asset size.

This year's list includes 30 credit unions, divided into four categories based on assets: $200 million or less; $200 million to $500 million; $500 million to $1 billion; and $1 billion or more.

A word about the applications we received for our inaugural ranking. To be frank, we were disappointed with the small number of credit unions with $200 million in assets that participated and CU Journal will work harder next year to reach out to more institutions in this asset category to ensure that more are represented in our second annual survey next fall.

Credit unions must proactively opt-in to be considered for this ranking. So if you work for an institution with fewer than $200 million in assets, I strongly urge you to sign up for the ranking in 2015. For more information on how to do that, please go to: www.bestcreditunionstoworkfor.com.

Credit Union Journal's "Best CUs to Work for" study was performed in conjunction with the Best Companies Group, which reviews employer reports on benefits and policies, along with extensive employee surveys to generate the rankings.

Participating CUs underwent a two-part assessment administered by Best Companies. The results of the assessment determined whether and where an institution appeared on the final list.

The first part of the assessment, worth 25 percent, gathered information about each CU's benefits, policies and HR practices. The second part, which accounted for 75 percent of a credit union's score, involved a confidential 78-question survey of employees.

The top credit unions, profiled by our new contributor Joel Berg (see story on page 10), offer up some great ideas for keeping employees engaged, be it through incentives to improve health and wellness, group volunteer projects or the good, clean fun of a company event that employees actually look forward to.

We hope you take away some good ideas from this piece, or at least feel inspired to know that with the right ingredients, it's possible to develop even stronger, more positive employee engagement at your CU.

And I'd be remiss in writing this note if I didn't mention International Credit Union Week and all the fantastic things we saw and heard about the community doing for the celebration. Please send us photos of what your CU did to honor the occasion, as we will be creating a special photo section of images devoted to this annual event.

Editor in Chief Marian Raab can be reached at marian.raab@sourcemedia.com.