HappyEmployeeWhen you think about companies that trump others at employee satisfaction, some obvious suspects that spring to mind. But Fortune just released its annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For, and you may be surprised.

Sure, Google is there, right at the top, just like you’d expect. Twitter and Whole Foods are on the list, as is Build A Bear (makes sense that a bear workshop is a happy place to work, right?) But a company called Riot Games making its debut at #13? And would you have guessed that Detroit-based Quicken Loans would be right up there at #12?

What makes a company the best to work for? In order to find this out, Fortune partners with Great Place to Work to conduct what they call the most extensive employee survey in corporate America. Each year, here’s how they get beyond the publicist and reach into the heart of a company’s true culture:

“Two-thirds of a company’s survey score is based on the results of the Trust Index Employee Survey, which is sent to a random sample of employees from each company. This survey asks questions related to employees’ attitudes about management’s credibility, overall job satisfaction, and camaraderie. The other third is based on responses to the Culture Audit, which includes detailed questions about pay and benefit programs and a series of open-ended questions about hiring practices, methods of internal communication, training, recognition programs, and diversity efforts.”

But I’m sniffing another common denominator of employee satisfaction at these companies that isn’t being discussed by Fortune: the opportunity to be part of a company that places a premium on giving back. Most of the companies that made the list have a corporate philanthropy program that engages employees in some way and involves them in the process of connecting to their communities and the world at large.

And this is an important priority for employees these days, without which it’s hard for them to feel great about your company because they don’t feel that their role matters in the big scheme of things.

Purpose-driven work is a frequent discussion topic these days, and there’s a reason for that: people want to feel that they’re a part of something larger than themselves and that their work isn’t just a job but a meaningful experience. Most companies aren’t terribly effective at making employees feel that their work has this kind of purpose.  Which is part of the reason why, according to the latest Gallup poll on employee engagement, an average of only 31.5% of employees are engaged these days, 51% of them are not engaged, and 17.5% are creating real trouble by being actively disengaged.

But businesses like “best companies” Quicken and Riot Games, which just happen to be using Causecast’s employee volunteer management platform, understand that employees need to feel inspired by their companies in order to feel engaged.  Riot Games does this by working with a variety of local nonprofits across their locations, encouraging employees to volunteer with the initiatives and causes that are most important to them and then making it easy to do so as a part of their work at Riot Games.

Meanwhile, Quicken Loans is leveraging its resources towards many significant causes, with one focus being to help strengthen Detroit, the city where it’s headquartered.  Quicken has donated $8.9 million and 2800 volunteer hours towards downtown revitalization; 400 volunteer hours and $1.9 million towards supporting programs that provide technology-focused skills training and entrepreneurship opportunities for startups in Detroit and Cleveland; 22,400 volunteer hours and $875,000 towards promoting beautification and safety improvements in areas where team members live; and the impressive list goes on.  It’s hard to read Quicken’s annual report and not be inspired.

Being named as a top company to work for isn’t just an honor that can be used for empty bragging rights.  This kind of recognition lets prospective and current employees know how important their satisfaction is to companies, and feeds directly into employee engagement, recruitment and retention.  Perhaps next year, Fortune will further pursue the role that a company’s corporate volunteer program has in employee satisfaction and in making organizations that prioritize employee-led philanthropy the best places to work.