Jon Gogolak


Follow me: LinkedIn

By choosing an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), you are offering your employees a unique opportunity: to gain a financial stake in the company they work for. Yet the true value of an ESOP lies not just in the financial benefits but in the sense of ownership and belonging it instills in your people. Employees begin to think like owners, a shift in mindset that positions them to align your company’s interests with their own, which in turn will lead to greater productivity.

Merely offering an ESOP, however, isn’t enough to unlock the full potential of this powerful employee benefit plan. To truly maximize the advantages, you’ll need to actively engage your workforce using three key strategies: educating your employees, encouraging participation, and hosting community-building events.

1. Empower Your Employees with Knowledge

Communication and education are cornerstones of effective employee engagement with your ESOP. Because your staff may not fully understand the intricacies of how an ESOP works or the benefits it can provide—specifically, how their work impacts company performance and, subsequently, share price—delivering comprehensive education and training on the ownership plan is essential.

Begin by conducting companywide annual meetings to educate your employees about the fundamentals, including topics such as how contributions are made (requiring zero cash from employees), the formula for allocating shares, how vesting schedules work, and the way participants receive payouts. Make sure to simplify complex financial concepts and use real-life examples to illustrate the perks of participating in the ESOP. The ESOP’s trustee may even be willing to facilitate the discussion at these annual meetings.

Depending on the size of the company, you may wish to present additional workshops and seminars that go into more detail. Online courses, informational materials, and association memberships – such as to the National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO) or the ESOP Association – can be excellent additional resources as well. By empowering employees with knowledge about their ESOP, they'll feel more confident and engaged in not only striving to increase company productivity and efficiency but also in managing their financial future.

2. Foster a Culture of Ownership through Participation

Encouraging active participation is another key to building a culture of ownership among employees. Typically, in any business, owners know what’s going on in their company. Employees who feel a sense of ownership are more likely to be invested in the success of the company and motivated to contribute their best efforts. And for employee-owned businesses, employees should feel empowered to bring ideas to management that contribute towards company improvement.

To start, promote transparency and open communication regarding the ESOP. Updates on the performance of the company and the value of the ESOP shares can be presented at the annual meetings. Also, in sharing the financial highlights or specific events that happened in the company and also the broader businesses environment, helps the employees better understand what went behind the year-over-year change in share price. Encourage employees to ask questions and share feedback to help ensure management addresses any employee concerns.

Consider implementing an employee committee dedicated to understanding and advocating for the ESOP internally. This ESOP committee is often comprised of a mix of company management as well as participation from the broader workforce. These groups can serve as advocates for employee interests and help ensure that the ESOP is aligned with the long-term goals of the company.

Furthermore, offer incentives or rewards to recognize and celebrate employees who actively contribute to the success of the ESOP. Whether through increased salary, discretionary bonuses, or recognition programs, acknowledging employee participation reinforces the value of their ownership stake in the company.

3. Host Events to Build Community and Connection

Hosting events and creating opportunities for employees to connect with each other can further enhance engagement with the ESOP. Events provide a platform for employees to learn from each other, share experiences, and foster a sense of belonging within the organization —a team atmosphere with individuals playing for each other rather than themselves.

Try to organize regular ESOP-themed events such as town hall meetings, roundtable discussions, or social gatherings where employees can network, and exchange ideas related to the ESOP. Invite guest speakers, industry experts, or successful ESOP participants to reveal insights and inspiration. ESOP-related activities can also be incorporated into existing company events or traditions—for example, you can dedicate a portion of the annual company picnic or holiday party to showcasing the ESOP’s achievements and recognizing employee contributions.

When you create a supportive community around the ESOP, employees will feel more connected to it and motivated to actively engage.

An Ongoing ESOP Journey: The Domino Effect

Remember, active engagement with an ESOP is not a one-time effort but rather an ongoing journey, one that requires commitment and dedication from both you and your employees. By prioritizing education, participation, and events, companies can cultivate a culture where employees are empowered to take ownership of their financial future and contribute to the success of the organization.

Remember, the true value of an ESOP lies not just in the financial benefits it offers but in the sense of ownership and belonging it instills in employees. By investing in employee engagement with the ESOP, employees will begin to think like owners and companies can unlock the full potential of this powerful employee benefit plan.

Largest Transactions Closed

  • Target
  • Buyer
  • Value($mm)