RSUs as a Retention Strategy: The Key to Keeping Talent in Your Company‍

RSUs as a Retention Strategy: The Key to Keeping Talent in Your Company‍

August 30, 2023

RSUs as a Retention Strategy: The Key to Keeping Talent in Your Company‍

You've built a startup from the ground up or perhaps you're at the helm of an already established company. Either way, you know that retaining top talent is critical for long-term success. You've tried the standard benefits packages, employee perks, and even sign-on bonuses, but you're looking for something more effective, and more compelling. 

This is where Restricted Stock Units (RSUs) come into play. As a financial incentive directly tied to the company’s stock, RSUs offer a unique opportunity for you to keep your employees committed and engaged. Read on to discover how this can be a game-changing strategy for your company.

What Are RSUs?

Restricted Stock Units are a form of equity compensation given to employees. Unlike traditional stock options, RSUs are not purchased but are awarded based on tenure, performance, or meeting specific goals. Once vested, RSUs convert into shares of the company, allowing employees to reap the benefits of ownership, albeit with some restrictions.

RSUs are powerful because they align the interests of the employees with those of the company. The more successful the company becomes, the more valuable the stock—and by extension, the RSUs—become. This mutual interest cultivates a commitment to long-term success.

RSUs vs Traditional Incentives

You're already offering competitive salaries, dental and medical benefits, maybe even a gym membership or a generous work-from-home policy. Yet, you're sensing that these perks, while attractive, aren't enough to solidify long-term commitment. So why might RSUs offer something that these traditional incentives don't? 

The Psychology of Ownership

When employees have RSUs, they essentially have a slice of the company. It's not just a job for them anymore; it's an investment in their future. This changes their mindset from that of a short-term worker to a long-term stakeholder. Most traditional incentives, such as bonuses or even generous salaries, don't promote this kind of psychological ownership.

Built-in Loyalty Mechanism

RSUs usually come with a vesting schedule that outlines when employees can actually claim their shares. This creates a built-in loyalty mechanism, giving employees compelling financial reasons to stay on for a longer period. Traditional annual bonuses, for instance, can be attractive, but once they're paid out, they lose their power to retain employees for the year ahead.

Tax Benefits

Believe it or not, RSUs can offer certain tax advantages compared to other forms of incentives. For example, in some jurisdictions, the moment RSUs vest and turn into actual shares can be a taxable event at favorable capital gains rates, rather than as regular income. Compare this to a cash bonus which would typically be taxed as ordinary income at a higher rate.

Aligning Company and Employee Goals

Traditional incentives like bonuses or salary hikes may encourage employees to meet short-term targets. However, RSUs inherently encourage a focus on the company’s long-term health. Employees know that the more successful the company is, the more their shares will be worth. This aligns their day-to-day decisions and work ethic closely with the long-term goals of the company.

Lower Immediate Costs for the Company

For startups and cash-strapped companies, RSUs are an excellent tool for compensation without impacting immediate liquidity. Traditional incentives like salary raises or bonuses require upfront cash, which might not be feasible for smaller companies. RSUs, however, only require the allocation of shares, preserving your cash for other immediate needs.

Balanced Risk and Reward

Both the company and the employee share the risk and reward when it comes to RSUs. If the company doesn’t perform well, the value of RSUs might decline. However, if the company does well, the value rises. Traditional perks like healthcare benefits are static and don’t offer a sense of shared destiny.

Hence, while traditional incentives have their merits, RSUs introduce a range of benefits that are both psychologically and financially more aligned with long-term retention. It's not just about offering a benefit, but about creating a culture of ownership and aligned interests, setting the stage for a more committed, motivated workforce.

How to Implement RSUs in Your Retention Strategy

You're now sold on the idea of using RSUs as a retention tool. The advantages over traditional incentives are clear, but how do you go about implementing RSUs in your company? While the process might seem daunting at first, a well-thought-out plan can make it both feasible and effective. Here’s a deep dive into making RSUs a central part of your retention strategy.

1. Conduct a Thorough Needs Assessment

Before even considering issuing RSUs, take the time to thoroughly assess the needs and objectives of your company. What are your growth projections? How competitive is the job market for the positions you need to retain? The answers to these questions will help you tailor your RSU strategy to the unique demands of your business landscape.

2. Involve Legal and Financial Advisors

Implementing RSUs is not merely an HR decision but involves legal and financial intricacies. Consult your legal team to understand the regulatory implications of issuing RSUs. Sit down with your financial advisors to calculate the potential cost and impact on your company's valuation. This cross-disciplinary approach ensures that your RSU program is not only attractive but also compliant and sustainable.

3. Develop Clear Eligibility Criteria

RSUs shouldn't be a one-size-fits-all offering. Develop clear eligibility criteria to determine who in your organization should receive them. This could be based on factors such as seniority, role, or performance metrics. Having a transparent eligibility process will minimize misunderstandings and potential resentments within your team.

4. Create a Transparent Vesting Schedule

A well-designed vesting schedule is critical for the success of your RSU program. As mentioned earlier, the typical vesting schedule spans four years with a one-year cliff. However, you can customize this based on your retention goals. For instance, you could have a faster vesting period for critical roles that are hard to fill, thereby providing a stronger incentive to stay.

5. Ensure Seamless Administration

Nothing can make your RSU program backfire faster than poor administration. Choose a reliable system or software to track RSU grants, vesting schedules, and employee queries. Automation can reduce administrative errors and save time, making the RSU experience better for both you and your employees.

6. Build an Education and Communication Plan

The best RSU program in the world won't succeed if your employees don't understand it. Build a robust education and communication plan to make sure your team knows how RSUs work, why they're being offered, and how they can be beneficial. This can be done through informational sessions, FAQs, or one-on-one consultations.

7. Establish Periodic Reviews

Once your RSU program is up and running, don’t set it and forget it. Make it a point to review its effectiveness periodically. Are your retention rates improving? Do employees feel more engaged and invested in the company's success? Use both quantitative data and qualitative feedback to make ongoing improvements.

Real-World Success Stories: RSUs as a Game Changer in Talent Retention

You've absorbed the fundamentals and discovered how to implement RSUs in your company. Now, you may be wondering, "Do RSUs really work in the real world? Are there tangible examples of companies that have successfully utilized them to retain top talent?" The answer is a resounding yes. The following case studies underscore the transformative impact RSUs can have in retaining indispensable employees.


Google faces fierce competition for talent in the tech world. The company has long been a proponent of equity-based incentives, including RSUs. In 2014, Google upped its game by switching from stock options to RSUs as a way to better align employee and shareholder interests. Since then, they've seen a marked improvement in talent retention, even among mid-level engineers and managers who are often poached by startups promising the next big thing. Google's RSU program makes employees think twice about quitting, as they have a stake in the company's sustained growth.


It's not just tech companies that can benefit from RSUs; Starbucks has been a pioneer in offering RSUs to both full-time and part-time employees, including retail workers. Named “Bean Stock,” Starbucks' RSU program has become a critical aspect of its employee retention strategy. Given the traditionally high turnover rates in the retail sector, the impact of Bean Stock on retention is particularly noteworthy. Employees feel a greater sense of ownership and are more likely to stay with the company, leading to more experienced and committed staff serving customers.


Salesforce is another company that has used RSUs effectively to retain key employees. In addition to the usual 4-year vesting schedule, Salesforce offers a unique “milestone award” to employees who meet specific performance goals or reach certain tenure milestones. These additional RSU grants act as a strong incentive for employees to stay and continue performing at a high level, reducing the likelihood of losing them to competitors.


HubSpot faced a churn problem, with high turnover rates affecting the company's ability to grow sustainably. They turned to RSUs as a solution, offering them as part of a more diversified compensation package. The introduction of RSUs played a significant role in lowering attrition rates and keeping employees invested in the company's success. HubSpot's example shows that even companies facing severe retention challenges can turn things around with a well-executed RSU strategy.


Tesla, the disruptive automaker and energy company, operates in an extremely competitive space where innovative minds are highly sought after. Its RSU program is designed to keep these innovators tied to the company. Elon Musk himself has compensation heavily tied to RSUs, setting a precedent for performance-based retention throughout the company. For Tesla, RSUs have been key in retaining high-caliber employees who are central to its mission of accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy.

By looking at these diverse examples, it’s clear that RSUs have been a game changer in talent retention across various industries. Whether you’re a tech giant or a retail chain, a growing startup, or an established enterprise, RSUs offer a compelling way to hold onto the people who make your company great. So why not explore how RSUs can revolutionize your own retention strategy?

Should You Adopt RSUs?

If you’re serious about retaining top talent, fostering long-term commitment, and aligning your team’s interests with your company’s success, RSUs offer a compelling solution. While they may require a bit of upfront planning and a commitment to transparent communication, the long-term benefits can be substantial.

So go ahead, and take that step toward making RSUs a cornerstone of your company's retention strategy. As you’ve seen, it's not just a theoretical benefit—it’s a practical tool that has been proven to work time and again. In today’s competitive landscape, RSUs could be the game-changer you’ve been searching for.

Convinced but cannot fully commit to RSU equity plans yet? Head over to Upstock to learn more or book a demo today to get a glimpse of how this equity format performs specifically for your business model.

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