HR Management with Equity Compensation

Casey Fenton


September 2, 2023

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Human resources (HR) management is an essential aspect of any organization. HR managers are responsible for attracting and retaining top talent, aligning employee incentives with company goals, and enhancing employee retention. To accomplish these objectives, HR managers need to provide employees with competitive compensation packages, including equity compensation.

In this article, we'll explore the ways equity-based compensation can help with HR functions, the steps for designing the right equity plan for employees, and how an HR manager can effectively communicate equity plans to employees.

What is Equity Compensation?

Equity compensation is a type of non cash pay that provides employees with an ownership stake in the company. It is one of the popular investment vehicles representing ownership in a company's shares. 

This employee equity can take several forms, including incentive stock options, equity awards, non qualified stock options, restricted stock units (RSUs), and performance shares.

Equity Plans: Investment Vehicles Representing Ownership

Equity-based or stock compensation plans can be an effective way to give employees a sense of ownership in the company aside from their usual pay. Ownership can be defined in many ways but generally refers to the extent to which an individual has a stake in the firm. This stake can be in the form of equity compensation, which provides employees with a direct financial interest in the company's performance.

When employees own a stake in the company, they feel more connected to the team and are more likely to work towards its success. They have a vested interest in the company's performance and are motivated to contribute to its growth and profitability. This is particularly true for startups and other early-stage companies, where the success of the firm is closely tied to the performance of individual employees.

Accountability also provides employees with a sense of pride and accomplishment. They feel a sense of responsibility for the success of the firm and are more likely to take accountability for their work. This can lead to greater job satisfaction and a stronger commitment to the firm.

Additionally, ownership can help build a strong workplace culture. When employees feel like they are part owners of the company, they are more likely to feel invested in its success and more likely to work collaboratively towards shared goals. This can lead to a more engaged and committed workforce, which is essential for the long-term success of companies.

Equity compensation works by offering employees the opportunity to purchase shares of their company's stock at a discounted price. Through payroll deductions, employees can allocate a portion of their income to purchase shares on a set purchase date. Once the shares are purchased, they are fully vested, meaning the employee owns them outright and can sell them immediately or hold onto them as long as they wish.

By offering this type of compensation, businesses can encourage their employees to become shareholders and take an active interest in the organization's performance.

Additionally, equity can provide employees with the opportunity to earn additional money through the sale of their shares. When the option vests, employees can sell the shares they purchased at a discounted price and potentially earn a significant profit if the stock price has increased since the purchase date. This can be a powerful motivator for employees to work hard and contribute to the organization's success, ultimately benefiting both the employee and the company's shareholders.

Improving HR Management with Equity Compensation

Stock-based compensation can play an important role in improving human resources (HR) management. It not only helps attract and retain employees, but it also aligns employees' interests with those of the business. Here are some of the ways that stock compensation can help with HR functions, including recruitment and performance management.

1. Attracting and Retaining Top Employees

Equity compensation is an effective tool for attracting and retaining high quality employees. Offering stock as part of the compensation package aside from cash allows employees to have a stake in the company, making them feel more invested in the firm’s success. This can be especially important for private companies that cannot offer their employees the same level of cash compensation as public companies.

For example, if a startup wants to draw in the best talent, it may not be able to offer the same level of cash compensation as a larger company. However, by offering stock compensation, the startup can provide its employees with a stake in the organization's success, making it more attractive to potential new hires.

2. Aligning Employee Incentives with Company Goals

Stock compensation helps to align employee incentives with the business’s goals. When more employees are invested in the success of the business, they are more likely to work towards the corporation's goals and objectives. This can help improve the business’s overall performance and drive growth.

For instance, suppose a late-stage startup wants to expand into a new market to generate more profits. By offering equity compensation to its employees, the management can encourage them to work towards this goal of increasing the business profits. Employees who own a stake in the company are more likely to go above and beyond to help the team succeed, as their own financial interests are tied to corporate success.

3. Enhancing Retention and Continued Employment

Equity compensation can also enhance employee retention. When more employees own a stake in the company, they are more likely to stay with the team for long-term employment. This can help reduce employee turnover and improve the stability of the firm.

For example, suppose a late-stage startup wants to retain top executives. By offering equity compensation, the management can provide them with a stake in the company's success. This can help to incentivize these executives to stay with the team for the long term, as their financial interests are tied to corporate success.

4. Performance Management

Equity compensation can also be used as a tool to incentivize and reward high-performing employees. Companies can use performance-based equity awards, such as performance shares or stock options, as this method encourages employees to exceed expectations and contribute to the company's success. This can help create a culture of high performance and accountability within the team.

5. Employee Engagement

Equity compensation can also help boost employee engagement. When employees feel that they have a stake in the company's success, they are more likely to be engaged and committed to their work. This can lead to higher levels of productivity, innovation, and collaboration.

6. Cost Savings

Employee equity can be a cost-effective way to compensate employees, especially for cash-strapped startups or smaller companies. Instead of offering large salaries, companies can offer equity compensation that has the potential to provide a much higher return for employees in the long run.

7. Tax Advantages

Equity compensation can also provide tax advantages for both the employer and the employee. For example, ISOs can be taxed at a lower rate than regular income, and companies can also receive tax deductions for certain types of employee equity.

How Should HR Design Employee Equity Plans

1. Determine the Corporate Objectives

For employers, the first step in designing the right equity plan for employees is to determine the company's objectives. This involves deciding what the company hopes to achieve by offering equity compensation. For instance, is the goal to attract new hires and retain high quality employees or to align employee incentives with company goals?

To determine the company's objectives, the HR manager should consider the organization's long-term goals and strategic plans. This will help them to identify the areas where equity compensation can have the most significant impact.

2. Decide on the vesting schedule

Once you’ve determined how much equity to offer and to whom, you need to decide on the vesting schedule. Vesting is the process by which an employee earns the right to receive shares of employee equity over time. Typically, schedules are structured over a certain period of time called a vesting period, such as four years, with a certain percentage of the equity awarded vesting at predetermined intervals.

A vesting schedule can be designed to encourage workers to stay with the company for a certain period so that they will receive the full value of their equity compensation. A typical schedule might be structured so that an employee earns 25% of the equity after one year, and then the remaining equity vests in equal installments over the next three years. This encourages employees to stay with the company for at least four years and ensures that they are rewarded for their loyalty.

3. Choose the right type of equity compensation

There are several types of equity compensation that employers can offer to their workers. Each type has its own unique features and benefits, and choosing the right type of equity compensation can be key to achieving the desired outcomes. Some common types of equity plans include:

Stock options: Incentive Stock Options (ICOs) and Non Qualified Stock Options (NSOs)

Stock options give employees the right to purchase company stock at a predetermined price, known as the exercise price. If the company’s stock price increases, the worker can purchase stock at a profit. If the stock price decreases, the worker can simply let the option expire and avoid any losses.

ISOs are stock options that qualify for special tax treatment. Meanwhile, NSOs are stock options that do not qualify for special tax treatment.

The main difference between the two types of options is their tax treatment. With ISOs, workers can potentially receive preferential tax treatment on the gains from the stock options, while NSOs are taxed at ordinary income rates. Companies may choose to offer one or both types of options to their workers, depending on their needs and goals.

Restricted Stock Units (RSUs)

RSUs are a type of equity award that gives a company’s employees the right to receive company stock at a future date, once certain conditions are met. Unlike stock options, RSUs do not require the worker to purchase stock, but they also do not provide any potential upside from an increase in the stock price.

Performance Shares

Performance shares are a type of equity award that is tied to the company’s performance. If the business meets certain predetermined goals, the worker will receive shares of the company’s stock. Performance shares can be a powerful motivator for employees, as they are directly tied to the success of the company.

Each type of stock-based compensation has its own tax implications, so it’s important to consult with a tax professional before deciding on the right type of equity compensation for your company’s employees. But to make things convenient, choose an equity design that makes bookkeeping easier by focusing on performance milestones rather than the vesting calendar.

Communicate the compensation plan to employees

Finally, it’s important that employers communicate the compensation plan to employees in a clear and effective way. Employees need to understand the terms of the plan, the value of the equity compensation, and how it can benefit them over time. HR managers can use a variety of communication channels, such as email, in-person meetings, or webinars, to share information about the stock plan.

It’s also important to ensure that employees understand the tax implications of equity compensation. Employees will need to pay taxes on the value when they receive equity compensation, even if they haven’t sold the shares. The HR manager can provide employees with resources and support to help them navigate the tax implications of equity compensation.

Equity Management Platform that Streamlines Your HR Functions

Equity compensation can be a powerful tool for the HR manager to attract and retain top talent, incentivize employees, and align employee interests with those of the management. By offering stock compensation, employers can provide employees with a stake in the company’s success, which can help to create a culture of accountability.

To design an effective stock-based compensation plan, HR managers should consider the needs and goals of the business, as well as the needs and goals of individual employees. By offering the right amount and type of equity compensation, setting a fair vesting period, and communicating the plan effectively, the HR manager can create a win-win situation for both employees and the company.

Alternatively, to improve your cost-saving measures, you might want to consider an innovative equity management approach that’s taking the startup industry by storm: a fully automated platform that creates and deploys equity agreements in just a matter of minutes! From onboarding to monitoring, we get the job done for your convenience. Talk to our experts now to know more about this awesome technology that Upstock offers.

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Casey Fenton

Founder, Upstock & Couchsurfing, AI and Equity Innovator

Casey Fenton, the founder of Upstock & Couchsurfing and an AI and equity innovator, has revolutionized how we perceive and implement equity in the workplace. His foresight in creating platforms that not only connect people but also align their interests towards communal and corporate prosperity has established him as a pivotal figure in technology and community building. Casey speaks worldwide on topics including ownership mindset, worker equity, With Upstock and Couchsurfing, he has demonstrated an unparalleled expertise in harnessing technology for the betterment of community interaction and organizational benefits.

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