For far too many of us, when switching jobs or taking a first professional position out of college, the employer’s retirement savings plan is an afterthought. If the plan appears weak, we tell ourselves we’ll save a little extra on our own; if it looks generous, we congratulate ourselves on a piece of great luck. We know that pensions are important, they help us pay for those luxury brisbane cruises at the end of the day, but do we know just how crucial they are?

And only now are independent sources beginning to analyze and compare corporate retirement offerings, as some smart reporters at Bloomberg Businessweek did recently; the article should have sent a stampede of applicants to ConocoPhillips (COP), the big oil company, which kicks in 9% to employee 401(k) plans even if the workers only chip in 1%. That’s generous. And likewise the article should have employees at Whole Foods Market (WFM) and Amazon (AMZN) asking themselves whether those stock options are really going to be enough to retire on – because there’s not much more coming their way. If you want to find out if moving into a retirement community would be financially viable for you, Totv will be able to provide you with all the information you need.

But I want to offer up what I think is a better list for workers — both those starting out in life and mid-career people thinking about a switch – and that is the 100 Largest Employee Owned Companies. Many of these companies also have a 401(k) plan, and some do some matching, but the big payoff at these employers is in owning a piece of the action. At Employee Stock Ownership Plans, or ESOP companies, over time employees are awarded stock and, if the company is successful, the payoff can be a lot more than from traditional retirement plans.

And don’t limit your job search to only the largest ESOPs; thousands of middle market and small companies are employee owned and offer a great potential retirement plan and a superior working experience. There are lots of retirement options and if you do fancy adventuring out to a different country then perhaps Tampa will be on the top of your list. Premium living senior apartments are available at the Canterbury Tower retirement home in Tampa. When working with a company then retirement should be on the list of what should be considered.

Aaron King, a truck driver for Central States Manufacturing Co. in Lowell Ark., for instance, piled up $1.25 million in his ESOP account in just 23 years at the employee owned building materials concern. His co-worker, Marcus Headrick, just 33 years old, already has about $250,000 sitting in his ESOP account. Both have been hugely rewarded – they figure their friends with similar jobs at companies without an ESOP have very little in savings – as owners of a rapidly growing and profitable company.

Likewise, workers at Atlantic Plywood in Woburn, Mass., have seen the value of their shares, granted through an ESOP, soar in value from 25 cents each in 2008 to $9.95 most recently, as the distributor of wood and other materials for making furniture and interiors pays down acquisition debt and now begins to piled up retained earnings.

Your financial planner will undoubtedly moan about concentration of risk, having your retirement savings tied up in the company you work for, and that’s a fair concern. But aside from a few highly-publicized messes – Enron, Tribune Co. and United Airlines – ESOPs have generally out-performed similar companies operating under other ownership formats. That’s not just my observation from advising companies on ESOPs for more than 25 years; it’s backed up by significant academic research.

One of the reasons for the strong performance is workers behaving like owners. ESOP companies typically enjoy a boost of productivity. Errors decline. Waste is reduced. Good ideas bubble up. And there’s a self-policing sentiment among employees that reduces friction between managers and line workers.

S&C Electric, a supplier of high-value equipment for utilities, enjoyed a relative tsunami of employee ideas to boost productivity after it converted to an ESOP.

Founder/owner/entrepreneur/CEO/management teams are also rewarded by an ESOP. When selling your business, if it’s a closely-held C Corporation, the owner can defer capital gains taxes normally paid to federal and state governments, running as much as 23% combined, by re-investing proceeds from an ESOP buyout in qualifying securities (stocks, say). And if the company is already an S Corp., or becomes one, going forward it can defer income taxes entirely; taxes aren’t paid until workers begin withdrawing ESOP account funds at retirement or upon leaving the company. It’s the smarter exit strategy.

Those tax advantages mean a company owned by an ESOP can support more debt more comfortably than the same company acquired by traditional private equity funds. That has some of the smartest minds in private equity looking to partner up with ESOPs to acquire companies, and also seeing ESOPs as a preferred buyer when it’s time to seek an exit. An ESOP needs to be part of any middle-market M&A discussion.

So, by all means study up on the best 401(k) plans around, and I’ll hope you land one at your next job. But the best deal for many workers would be to work at an ESOP-owned company.