ESOPs Vs SARs: Employees Compensation Choices

Written By:
Team Qapita
July 27, 2023

Employee ownership incentive plans are becoming increasingly popular, providing companies with powerful tools to reward and motivate their employees. ESOPs grant employees direct ownership in the company, fostering loyalty and wealth creation. On the other hand, SARs offer employees the opportunity to benefit from stock price appreciation without actual ownership. In this article, we'll explore the unique features, advantages, and potential drawbacks of both ESOPs and SARs, helping you gain a better understanding of which plan might be the best fit for your organization.

ESOPs, or Employee Stock Ownership Plans

ESOPs, or Employee Stock Ownership Plans, are a type of employee benefit plan that grants company employees a direct ownership stake in the organization. These plans are designed to foster a sense of ownership and loyalty among employees while also providing them with a path to wealth creation and financial security.

Characteristics of ESOPs:

ESOPs function as a trust that holds shares of the company's stock on behalf of the employees. As employees accumulate years of service, they become vested in the ESOP, gradually gaining ownership of the allocated shares. ESOPs are often used as part of an employee's retirement package, providing a valuable long-term benefit for their service and dedication to the company.  

Primary Objectives and Advantages for Employees:

1. Equity Ownership and Wealth Creation: ESOPs enable employees to become shareholders, allowing them to share in the company's success and financial growth. As the company's stock value appreciates over time, so does the value of the employee's ESOP account, building wealth for their future.

2. Motivation and Loyalty: By giving employees a stake in the company's performance, ESOPs encourage a sense of ownership and pride in their work, leading to increased motivation and dedication to the organization's success.

3. Retirement Benefits and Financial Security: ESOPs serve as a reliable retirement savings plan, providing employees with a source of income when they retire. This financial security can significantly impact an employee's overall well-being during their golden years.  

Related Article: Employees Compensation choices: RSU vs ESOP vs SAR

Benefits for Employers:

1. Increased Employee Engagement and Productivity: ESOPs have been shown to boost employee morale and engagement, leading to improved productivity and overall company performance.

2. Tax Advantages for the Company: Companies may receive tax benefits when setting up ESOPs, making them an attractive option for businesses seeking tax-efficient employee benefit plans.

Potential Challenges and Drawbacks:

1. Lack of Diversification: Employees who heavily rely on their ESOP for retirement may face challenges if the company's stock value declines or becomes volatile, leading to an imbalanced investment portfolio.

2. Governance and Decision-Making Complexities: As employees become shareholders, they may expect a say in the company's decision-making process, which can create complexities for management and potential conflicts of interest.

3. Costs and Administrative Burden: Establishing and maintaining an ESOP can involve significant costs and administrative responsibilities for the company, which may not be feasible for all organizations.

In conclusion, ESOPs offer compelling benefits for both employees and employers by fostering a culture of ownership, providing retirement security, and promoting company loyalty. However, they also come with challenges that businesses need to carefully consider before implementing an ESOP as part of their employee compensation strategy.

Stock Appreciation Rights (SARs)

Stock Appreciation Rights (SARs) are a form of employee incentive plan that allows employees to benefit from the appreciation in the company's stock price without actually owning the shares. SARs differ from ESOPs in that they do not grant direct ownership to employees, but rather give them the right to receive a cash payout equal to the value of the stock appreciation.  

Mechanics of SARs and Granting to Employees:

When employees are granted SARs, they are given a specified number of "units" or "rights." The SARs plan sets a baseline stock price (the "grant price") at the time of issuance. If the stock price rises above the grant price during a set period (the "vesting period"), employees can exercise their SARs. Upon exercise, employees receive the difference between the current stock price and the grant price in cash.

Advantage of SARs for Employees:

One significant advantage of SARs for employees is that they do not have to purchase the company's stock upfront. They can benefit from the stock price appreciation without the financial risk associated with direct equity ownership. SARs offer flexibility, as employees can choose when to exercise them within the vesting period.

Benefits of SARs for Employers:

SARs are an attractive incentive for employers as they can motivate and reward employees without diluting the company's ownership. Unlike ESOPs, where employees own a part of the company, SARs allow companies to retain full control while still providing employees with a share in the company's success.

Potential Challenges and Drawbacks of SARs:

1. Lack of Direct Equity Ownership: Unlike ESOPs, where employees become shareholders, SARs only offer a cash pay out. This may not be as appealing to employees seeking a long-term stake in the company.

2. Limited Long-Term Commitment from Employees: With SARs, employees may be more focused on short-term gains, as they are not invested in the company's long-term success through direct ownership.  

3. Accounting Complexities and Expenses: The financial reporting and accounting requirements for SARs can be complex and costly for the company to manage.

In conclusion, SARs provide an alternative approach to employee ownership incentives compared to ESOPs. While they offer flexibility and benefits for both employees and employers, their lack of direct equity ownership and potential short-term focus may be considerations for companies looking to implement a robust and long-term employee incentive program.


ESOPs (Employee Stock Ownership Plans) and SARs (Stock Appreciation Rights) are two distinct employee ownership incentive plans that offer unique benefits to both employees and employers.

ESOPs grant employees direct ownership in the company, providing them with a tangible stake in the organization's success. This fosters loyalty, motivation, and a long-term commitment to the company's performance. Employees stand to benefit from wealth creation through the appreciation of company stock, making ESOPs an attractive retirement savings option. However, ESOPs may lack diversification and present governance complexities for the company.

On the other hand, SARs do not provide direct ownership but offer employees the ability to cash in on stock price appreciation. This allows employees to participate in the company's growth without upfront financial investments. SARs are more flexible in terms of timing, as employees can choose when to exercise them within the vesting period. However, SARs may not instil the same sense of ownership and long-term commitment as ESOPs.  

Ultimately, the choice between ESOPs and SARs depends on the company's objectives, employee preferences, and the desired level of engagement and commitment from the workforce.  


In conclusion, the decision between ESOPs and SARs boils down to the specific needs and goals of the company and its employees. ESOPs provide a direct path to ownership, fostering loyalty and wealth creation for the long term. On the other hand, SARs offer employees the opportunity to benefit from stock appreciation without owning shares, providing more short-term flexibility. Companies seeking to align employees' interests with long-term success may lean towards ESOPs, while those aiming for immediate incentives might find SARs more suitable. Ultimately, both ESOPs and SARs serve as powerful tools to motivate and reward employees, contributing to a thriving and engaged workforce in their own distinct ways.

Team Qapita

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