Why ESOPs are More Than Just a Financial Incentive

Written By:
June 14, 2023

What are ESOPs?

An ESOP, or Employee Stock Ownership Plans, are programs that enable employees to become partial owners of the company they work for. Under an ESOP, employees are granted or allowed to purchase shares of company stock. These shares are held in a trust on behalf of the employees and are distributed to them over time, often upon retirement or departure from the company. The distribution of shares is typically based on the employee’s length of service, salary or a combination of both.  

ESOPs serve mainly as a form of employee benefit, aiming to align the interests of employees with the success of the company. By giving employees a stake in the organization, ESOPs can foster employee engagement, motivation and loyalty, which in turn can lead to increased productivity and a stronger company culture.  

ESOPs also have potential tax advantages for both the company and the employees. Contributions made to the ESOP are typically tax-deductible for the company, while the employees may be able to defer taxes on the value of the shares until they are distributed or sold.

How does an ESOP plan work?

Typically, there are six steps involved in an ESOP plan: creation, contribution, allocation, vesting, distribution and valuation.  

Creation essentially is the step where the company creates an ESOP plan and establishes a trust to hold the shares. The plan must be detailed to a certain level, outlining the eligibility criteria, contributions methods and vesting schedules.  

Contributions is the step that is simply stating that the company must make annual contributions to the ESOP trust, in the form of cash or company stock. These contributions are typically tax-deductible, which is an important incentive for any growing company.  

Allocation calls for the shares in the ESOP trust to be allocated to eligible employees based on predetermined allocation formulae. Said formulae may consider a multitude of different factors, such as employee compensation, length of service or a combination of both.  

The fourth step, or Vesting, essentially states that some companies might have a vesting schedule, which would determine when employees gain full ownership of the shares. Vesting periods could be based on years of service, or a cliff vesting approach, where full ownership is granted after some specified period.  

Distribution means that employees of any company receive their allocated shares when certain events occur, such as retirement, disability, termination or upon reaching a certain age. At this point, employees can sell the shares or retain them as long-term investments.  

The last step is Valuation. This means that the values of the shares in the trust are determined periodically through independent assessments or evaluations, which helps determine the price at which employees can sell their shares.  

ESOPs can be extremely beneficial, to both the company and its employees, hence making it extremely essential for companies to carefully design and administer ESOP plans, adhering to legal and regulatory requirements, whilst seeking professional advice to ensure compliance and maximize the benefits for all parties involved.  

Difference between ESOPs and Employee Stock

Though ESOPs and employee stock are both forms of employee ownership in a company, they differ in terms of structure and ownership rights.  

ESOPs can be defined as company-sponsored plans that allow employees to acquire ownership in the company. Employees receive shares of company stock either as a grant or through purchase. These shares are held in a trust on behalf of the employees and are typically distributed to them over time, often upon retirement or departure from the company. ESOPs are governed by specific regulations and are designed to provide employees with a long-term retirement benefit.  

On the other hand, employee stock refers to shares of company stock that are granted or offered to employees as part of their compensation package. These stock grants or options can be given as a bonus, incentive, or performance-based reward. With employee stock, employees typically have the right to exercise ownership and sell the stock after meeting certain conditions or vesting requirements. The value of the stock is tied to the company’s performance and stock market fluctuations.


Also read: Demystifying ESOPs for Early Stage Founders

Importance of ESOPs

Enhance Employee Engagement

ESOPs enhance employee engagement by providing employees with a sense of ownership and a direct stake in the company’s success. When employees have a financial interest that aligns with the success of the organization, they are more likely to be motivated, committed and aligned with the company’s goals. ESOPs create a shared sense of purpose, foster a culture of collaboration and encourage employees to take an active role in improving company performance, resulting in increased engagement and productivity.  

Positive Organizational Culture

ESOPs can help contribute towards creating a positive organizational culture in several ways. Firstly, ESOPs help in instilling a sense of ownership among employees, which goes on to foster a greater sense of commitment, loyalty and dedication towards the success of the firm. Employees begin to view themselves as stakeholders and actively contribute to achieving company goals.  

ESOPs also work towards aligning the interest of employees with overall goals and performance of the company. As employees become shareholders, their financial well-being is directly linked to the company’s success. This alignment promotes a shared purpose and encourages employees to work collaboratively towards common objectives.  

ESOPs also  promote a long-term perspective among employees, as they begin to focus on the sustainable growth and profitability of the company, rather than short-term gains. This long-term orientation fosters stability, strategic thinking and prudent decision making that benefits the organization as a whole.  

ESOPs also require open communication and transparency regarding the financial performance of the company, fostering a culture of trust, as employees are more informed about the organization’s challenges, operations and successes. Trust and transparency are foundational elements of a positive organizational culture.  

Overall, ESOPs have an almost transformational impact on organizational culture, promoting ownership, alignment, engagement and long-term thinking. They create a sense of shared responsibility and encourage employees to actively contribute to the success of the firm.  

Best Practices for Implementation

One of the most important practices in implementation of ESOPs is clear communication about the purpose, benefits and mechanics of the ESOP to employees, and ensuring that they understand the goals and how it aligns with their interests.  

Another necessary facet for successful implementation of ESOPs is seeking professional guidance, from legal, financial and tax professionals to navigate the complex regulations and compliances with applicable laws.  

It is also of utmost importance to ensure that the ESOP is designed in a fair and equitable manner, considering factors such as eligibility criteria, vesting schedules, and allocation formulae that align with the company’s values and goals. Additionally, transparency with employees should also be kept in focus.  

A contributor to success in implementing ESOPs is increasing employee engagement, through participation and involvement in decision-making related to ESOPs, and seeking their input on matters that impact their ownership and benefits.  

By implementing ESOPs successfully, companies can reach their true goals of promoting employee ownership, engagement and cultural change.  

Also Read: Equity Management Mistakes to Avoid as an Employee

How Qapita Can Provide Professional Guidance and Expertise

Qapita, with its equity managing platform, helps companies in planning and managing their ESOPs. Qapita has helped in planning multiple different ESOP plans, which goes to show how their expertise can help new clients flourish. Providing end-to-end services, Qapita can assist companies from the advisory stage, moving onto consulting and then management of ESOPs, with several features and services that can help streamline the ESOP process. Whether it is a firm’s first time looking into ESOPs or if later-growth firms need help with further administration, Qapita can provide the necessary help, from designing to execution to implementation.  

With a centralized platform for managing any cap table, Qapita gives an easy way to track ownership stakes and dilution caused by ESOP grants and other equity transactions, allowing customers to maintain accurate records. Further, Qapita helps facilitate administration of ESOPs, including the grant process, vesting schedules, and exercise management, whilst automating tasks such as generating grant letters, managing vesting milestones and tracking option exercises- simplifying the process for companies.  

Qapita also offers employee portals, to maintain transparency and empower employees to stay informed about their equity ownership, as they are able to view their ESOP grants, exercise options and access relevant documents and information. Qapita also provides tools to correctly value the company shares and conducts scenario analysis, allowing the company to assess the impact of different scenarios on the value of ESOP grants and make informed decisions.  

Overall, Qapita can help simplify the management and administration of ESOPs, offering a comprehensive platform that covers various aspects of ESOP planning, administration, and compliance. By leveraging Qapita’s services, companies can effectively manage their ESOP programs, enhance transparency and streamline the process at its very core.  


Overall, ESOPs are beneficial systems for both employees and employers, encouraging all stakeholders to work towards betterment of the company, in exchange for more fruitful financial benefits later on.  

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