RSUs and Employee Motivation: Empowering the Workforce Towards Company Success‍

Casey Fenton

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November 15, 2023

Picture yourself just having landed a multi-million dollar deal, a game-changing contract that could propel your startup into the big leagues. As you walk into the office, euphoria fills the air; your team senses something monumental has happened. But amidst the excitement, you wonder—how can you ensure this isn't just a one-time win? How do you keep your team driven, not just for the next deal, but for the long haul, so your company doesn't just flash brightly and fade away?

This is where equity compensation, specifically Restricted Stock Units (RSUs), comes into play. What if the same team that helped land that deal actually had a stake in the company’s success? A vested interest that goes beyond just clocking in hours and drawing salaries? With RSUs, you're not just offering a job; you're offering a share of a dream, a slice of a collective future. This article dives into the psychological impact of RSUs and why they could be the secret ingredient in transforming your workforce into motivated stakeholders, all driven towards a shared vision of success.

What are RSUs?

Restricted Stock Units or RSUs are shares of a company's stock given to an employee as part of their overall compensation package. These shares often vest over a specific period, meaning you can't sell or transfer them until certain conditions are met. But what is so special about RSUs that they can wield psychological influence over employees? The answer lies in the sense of ownership and vested interest that comes with holding a piece of the company you work for.

The Psychology Behind Ownership

The idea of ownership in the workplace has been a subject of study and fascination among organizational psychologists for years. When you're granted RSUs, you are essentially given a slice of the company's future. This transforms you from just a cog in the machine into a partial owner. It’s like suddenly becoming a co-captain of a ship; you now have a vested interest in avoiding icebergs and steering toward prosperous lands.

Theories and Proponents

Dr. Adam Grant, a well-known organizational psychologist, often talks about the concept of "job crafting." This theory suggests that when people feel they own their roles, they're likely to reshape them to become increasingly meaningful, which directly enhances motivation and performance. Now, imagine coupling job crafting with actual ownership in the form of RSUs. The impact is magnified, creating a compelling environment where you are not just emotionally but also financially invested.

In the classic management book "Ownership Thinking" by Brad Hams, the author argues that fostering an ownership mindset creates a culture of self-driven accountability. When you own a piece of the pie, the success of the pie becomes your success, and you'll naturally strive to make that pie as delicious as possible.

Cognitive Shift

The ownership of RSUs generates a cognitive shift from an "I work, therefore I earn" mentality to an "I contribute, therefore we grow" mindset. This cognitive shift is crucial because it impacts how you perceive your role within the company. You're not just completing tasks; you're contributing to an ecosystem that you partially own.

Significance to Motivation

Ownership in psychological terms is akin to empowerment. You become proactive in identifying problems and proposing solutions, as you're aware that the outcomes will affect not just the company but your own financial future. This inevitably drives you to go beyond the call of duty, turning the mundane into the meaningful, all in a bid to safeguard and grow your investment.

Empirical Evidence: How RSUs Affect Financial Performance

While the psychological benefits of RSUs in increasing employee motivation are significant, it's also crucial to validate these ideas with hard data. A compelling study titled "Impact of Restricted Stock Grant (RSG) Issuance on Financial Performance of US Software and IT Companies" delves into this. Conducted between 2013 and 2022, the study examines the relationship between the issuance of Restricted Stock Grants (essentially RSUs) and the financial performance of Software and IT companies in the United States.

Data collected from companies' 10-K reports and the Refinitiv database revealed a significant positive correlation between the value of Restricted Stock Grants issued (RSGV) and the 2-year forward return on assets (ROA). Interestingly, the study didn’t find any significant relationship between RSGV and other metrics like return on equity (ROE) or Tobin’s Q (TQ). What does this mean for you? This empirical evidence supports the idea that RSUs don’t just make you feel more committed—they have a quantifiable impact on a company's assets.

Implications for Employees and Investors

The study's findings emphasize the importance for corporate managers to tailor their equity compensation schemes, like RSUs, to better meet the needs of their employees. Furthermore, from an investor’s perspective, these results open the door for the integration of a new metric in evaluating and appraising a company's financial potential.

Sense of Achievement and Mastery

Equity-based rewards like RSUs not only give you a financial stake in the company, but they also serve as a catalyst for personal growth by fulfilling your intrinsic needs for achievement and mastery. These are essential psychological elements that often go unnoticed, yet they are integral to long-term job satisfaction and peak performance.

Achievement

Imagine a scenario where each vested share in your RSU package symbolizes a conquered challenge, a project successfully delivered, or a client retained against all odds. In psychological terms, this creates a dopamine-driven feedback loop. Each vested share becomes a token of your achievements, a pat on the back that's felt not just emotionally, but also materially. This continual reinforcement can serve as a powerful motivator, pushing you to stretch your limits and accomplish more.

Mastery

Albert Bandura's theory of self-efficacy talks about how belief in one’s abilities can significantly influence the effort invested in tasks. When RSUs are linked to performance milestones or long-term company goals, they become a way to measure and acknowledge your increasing proficiency and mastery over your role and tasks. The vesting schedule of RSUs becomes a roadmap for skill acquisition, offering you tangible markers of your progress.

Autonomy and Control

Psychologist Edward Deci, known for his work on intrinsic motivation, asserts that a sense of autonomy is vital for fostering motivation. RSUs allow you to experience financial autonomy as they vest. You gain more control over your financial destiny, enhancing your sense of autonomy which, in turn, invigorates your work ethic and focus.

Significance and Relevance

The need for achievement and mastery is not just about personal triumphs; it's about feeling that your work has broader significance. When your success is tied to company stock, your contributions carry more weight. You’re not just "doing a job;" you're contributing to a mission that you have a stake in, making your role profoundly more relevant.

Long-Term Vision and Planning: Why RSUs Are the Building Blocks of Your Company’s Future

When it comes to setting up your business for success, it's not just about what you can achieve today or tomorrow—it's about laying a solid foundation for the years to come. As a business owner, you need tools that instill this sense of long-term vision in your team. This is where RSUs serve as more than just an immediate reward; they act as the cornerstone for future-focused planning and loyalty among your staff.

Aligning Individual Goals with Company Trajectory

When you offer RSUs with a vesting schedule that unfolds over several years, you're doing more than just dangling a financial carrot; you're encouraging your team to align their personal career goals with the company's long-term objectives. The lens through which your employees view their daily tasks and future projects shifts from being myopic to having a far-reaching scope. This is not just beneficial for them; it's a strategic win for your company.

The Anchoring Effect: A Commitment to Stability

We can borrow a concept from behavioral economics here—the "anchoring effect." Coined by Daniel Kahneman, this term describes how initial exposure to a number or value serves as an anchor for future decisions. Offering RSUs becomes an anchor for your employees, making them think twice before jumping ship. This not only stabilizes your workforce but also ensures that the intellectual capital you've invested in stays within the company.

Crafting a Legacy, Not Just Completing Tasks

The true power of RSUs lies in the legacy they help to create. Your employees will start to see their work not just as assignments to be completed, but as integral contributions to a company they have a vested interest in. This shift in perspective doesn't just affect performance; it elevates the quality of work produced, as everyone begins to function as a partial owner focused on long-term success.

Teaching the Art of Delayed Gratification

Remember the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment? It illustrated the power of delayed gratification, linking the ability to wait for a larger reward to better life outcomes. When your employees work knowing their RSUs will vest over time, they internalize this invaluable lesson. Furthermore, as these RSUs vest, they offer a sense of financial security to your team, allowing them to focus more on innovative solutions and less on immediate financial concerns.

Team Collaboration and Collective Goals

RSUs cultivate a collective mindset among employees. When the company succeeds, everyone succeeds. This harmonizes individual goals with organizational objectives, fostering a collaborative environment. You're more likely to share knowledge and resources, and even go the extra mile, knowing that the fruits of collective labor will be shared.

Research Findings

A study by the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations found that companies that offered stock options or RSUs had significantly higher productivity rates than those that didn't. Moreover, employees at these companies reported higher levels of job satisfaction, which positively influenced their work quality and interaction with teammates.

Bottomline: Invest in People that Invest in the Future

As you journey through the complexities of running a business, it's easy to get lost in the numbers, the deadlines, and the endless to-dos. But at the heart of every successful company is a motivated team working towards a unified vision. Restricted Stock Units (RSUs) are not just another line item on your budget or a checkbox in your HR strategy. They are a long-term investment in the people who are or will become, the pillars of your organization.

Remember, when your employees feel like co-owners, they act like co-owners. They'll go the extra mile during crunch times, tackle challenges with enthusiasm, and become brand ambassadors, both inside and outside the office. RSUs offer them a slice of the pie, encouraging them to contribute to its growth. And when the pie grows, everyone benefits—your employees, your investors, and most importantly, the visionary who started it all: you.

So as you map out the future of your enterprise, factor in the transformational impact of RSUs. When leveraged effectively, they have the power not just to recruit and retain top talent but to unlock unprecedented levels of dedication, creativity, and productivity. In short, RSUs are not merely an expense; they are an investment with a high yield in human capital.

Ready to take the leap or switch to RSUs? Great! Book a demo with Upstock today and have a sneak peek of what’s it like to motivate your employees with the most flexible equity compensation package in the market.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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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