"There are always some companies on the leading edge of social responsibility," says Milton Moskowitz, coauthor of The 100 Best Companies to Work for in America. "They pay more, provide more health insurance, give more paid vacation, give extras like profit sharing. They are innovators of employe benefits."

Lawrence Lavengood, business professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management, calls them "the models against which others are measured."

Three companies that have created their own standard for balancing benevolence and the bottom line, according to industry observers:

Hewlett-Packard. An electronics company that makes computers, calculators and other instruments, it ranked second only to IBM in its category on Fortune's 1986 Most Admired list and is on every other list where social accountability and innovation count. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., it provides employes with little touches, such as a discount cafeteria, no dress code, even occasional afternoon beer busts, as well as significant benefits, among them, flexitime, top pay and benefits, profit sharing, 100 percent medical and dental insurance, and stock purchase. Cofounder Bill Hewlett's dictum: "Men and women want to do a good job, a creative job, and if they are provided the proper environment, they will do so." That "environment" includes 10 company-maintained recreational resorts -- from the Poconos to the German Alps -- where workers and families can take cut-rate vacations.

Herman Miller. A consistent innovator since the 1930s in both its office and home furniture designs and in policy toward employes, this Michigan-based corporation pioneered labor-management cooperation. Benefits package includes child-care assistance, $1,500 adoption aid and career bonuses, as well as health programs.

"Some of the most progressive employers are the smaller ones -- like Herman Miller," says James O'Toole, University of Southern California professor of management. "All employes own stock in the company, all take part in profit sharing, all participate in decisions. Even things that almost seem hokey: They put all 3,000-some employes' pictures in their annual report. It was good for morale."

Worthington Industries Inc. The Columbus, Ohio, steel and plastics company's commitment to its employes and environmental matters has landed it on Mark Dowie's rankings of the Best of American Business in Mother Jones. Moskowitz's 100 Best includes it for its democratic-style workplace, profit sharing plan, and records set in productivity, low absenteeism and low turnover. Despite recent financial woes, its Golden Rule is intact: "We treat our customers, employes, investors and suppliers as we would like to be treated."