2. Sitara Networks

In this period of layoffs, disappointing stock prices and musical-chair executives, it's difficult to find a company that can instill a fierce sense of loyalty in its staff.

In this period of layoffs, disappointing stock prices and musical-chair executives, its difficult to find a company that can instill a fierce sense of loyalty in its staff. At Sitara Networks, however, loyalty and pride in the company is a common thread among its 180 employees.

Sitara, a provider of systems to ensure quality of service on networks, provides the usual list of perks — access to a health club, vending machines that dont take money, fresh fruit baskets and free dinners for those working after hours. But those arent the things employees mention most often.

"That stuffs nice and all, but its definitely not the reason I love coming to work," says Dave Turner, Sitaras manager of worldwide sales. "People here are given free rein to do their jobs. You dont have someone looking over your back — the attitude is: We hire quality people, so go to it. "

Sitara was founded in 1996 by Malik Khan, formerly a vice president and general manager at Motorolas Network Systems Division. Khan, a native of Pakistan, has actively recruited top engineers and developers from around the world. The result is a multicultural atmosphere.

"Its a fascinating work environment — like a giant melting pot," says Kelly OBrien, the companys Web manager.

OBrien says employees are expected to work hard, but management has also made it very clear that family comes first. She recently had a family crisis and needed time off. "There was a feeling of support from the entire company," OBrien says. "My feeling now is, Ill bend over backwards for this company."

Thats not to say that traditional perks like stock options dont play a role in employee satisfaction. "Its still a factor," OBrien says. "Theres not a get-rich-quick atmosphere, but the potential of the company is so tremendous that theres still a sense that youre working hard so you can share in that potential."