IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Employee Stock Purchase Plans: Gift or Incentive? Evidence from a Multinational Corporation


  • Bryson, Alex

    (University College London)

  • Freeman, Richard B.

    (Harvard University)


Many large listed firms offer workers the opportunity to buy shares in the firm at discounted rates through employee stock purchase plans (ESPP). The discounted rate creates a gift exchange, where the firm hopes that workers who accept the gift reciprocate with greater loyalty and effort. But ESPPs diverge from standard gift exchange or efficiency wage models. Employees have to invest some of their own money by purchasing shares at the discounted rate to accept the gift. A sizeable number choose to reject the gift. In addition, the value of the ESPP gift varies with the share price and thus with the performance of the firm and the effort of workers in total. For workers who buy subsidized shares, an ESPP sets up a group incentive pay system analogous to profit sharing, all-employee stock options, or an employment ownership scheme that makes part of workers' compensation depend on company performance. Using data from the UK establishments of a multinational firm that places its ESPP at the heart of its employee compensation system, we compare the workplace behaviour of employees who join the ESPP with that of observationally equivalent workers who do not join the plan. We find that workers who purchase shares at subsidized prices work harder for longer hours and have lower quit and absence rates than workers who do not join the plan, but are no more involved in co-monitoring the performance of fellow employees than non-Plan members. We also find perceptions of peers' Plan participation influences workers' behaviour. ESPP joiners socialise more with colleagues outside work: this greater sense of social identity with colleagues, predicted under some gift exchange models, lowers their costs of work effort and may explain why they are more productive than those who do not join the ESPP. These findings highlight the distinct place of subsidized share purchase schemes in the spectrum of gift exchange and group incentive pay systems.

Suggested Citation

  • Bryson, Alex & Freeman, Richard B., 2014. "Employee Stock Purchase Plans: Gift or Incentive? Evidence from a Multinational Corporation," IZA Discussion Papers 8537, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp8537

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Simon Gachter & Ernst Fehr, 2000. "Cooperation and Punishment in Public Goods Experiments," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(4), pages 980-994, September.
    2. Richard B. Freeman & Joseph R. Blasi & Douglas L. Kruse, 2010. "Introduction to "Shared Capitalism at Work: Employee Ownership, Profit and Gain Sharing, and Broad-based Stock Options"," NBER Chapters, in: Shared Capitalism at Work: Employee Ownership, Profit and Gain Sharing, and Broad-based Stock Options, pages 1-37, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Douglas L. Kruse & Richard B. Freeman & Joseph R. Blasi, 2010. "Shared Capitalism at Work: Employee Ownership, Profit and Gain Sharing, and Broad-based Stock Options," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number krus08-1, May.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Alex Bryson & Lucy Stokes & David Wilkinson, 2018. "Is Pupil Attainment Higher in Well-managed Schools?," DoQSS Working Papers 18-09, Quantitative Social Science - UCL Social Research Institute, University College London.
    2. Nicolas Aubert & Xavier Hollandts, 2015. "How Shared Capitalism Affects Employee Withdrawal: An Econometric Case Study Of A French-Listed Company," Post-Print halshs-01256759, HAL.
    3. Petri Böckerman & Alex Bryson & Pekka Ilmakunnas, 2013. "Does high involvement management lead to higher pay?," Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A, Royal Statistical Society, vol. 176(4), pages 861-885, October.
    4. Bryson, Alex & Clark, Andrew E. & Freeman, Richard B. & Green, Colin P., 2016. "Share capitalism and worker wellbeing," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 42(C), pages 151-158.
    5. John S. Heywood & Uwe Jirjahn, 2014. "Variable Pay, Industrial Relations and Foreign Ownership: Evidence from Germany," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 52(3), pages 521-552, September.
    6. Uwe Jirjahn & Jens Mohrenweiser, 2019. "Performance Pay and Applicant Screening," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 57(3), pages 540-575, September.
    7. Nicolas Aubert & Hachmi Ben Ameur & Guillaume Garnotel & Jean‐Luc Prigent, 2018. "Optimal Employee Ownership Contracts Under Ambiguity Aversion," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 56(1), pages 238-251, January.
    8. Guillermo Alves & Gabriel Burdin & Paula Carrasco & Andrés Dean & Andrés Rius, 2012. "Empleo, remuneraciones e inversión en cooperativas de trabajadores y empresas convencionales: nueva evidencia para Uruguay," Documentos de Trabajo (working papers) 12-14, Instituto de Economia - IECON.
    9. Uwe Jirjahn & Erik Poutsma, 2013. "The Use of Performance Appraisal Systems: Evidence from Dutch Establishment Data," Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 52(4), pages 801-828, October.
    10. Simon Jäger & Benjamin Schoefer & Jörg Heining, 2021. "Labor in the Boardroom," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 136(2), pages 669-725.
    11. Fochmann, Martin & Sachs, Florian & Weimann, Joachim, 2019. "Managing wages: Fairness norms of low- and high-performing team members," arqus Discussion Papers in Quantitative Tax Research 238, arqus - Arbeitskreis Quantitative Steuerlehre.
    12. Gabriel Burdín, 2014. "Are Worker-Managed Firms More Likely to Fail Than Conventional Enterprises? Evidence from Uruguay," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 67(1), pages 202-238, January.
    13. Imanol Basterretxea & John Storey, 2018. "Do Employee†Owned Firms Produce More Positive Employee Behavioural Outcomes? If Not Why Not? A British†Spanish Comparative Analysis," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 56(2), pages 292-319, June.
    14. Jason S. Spicer, 2020. "Worker and Community Ownership as an Economic Development Strategy: Innovative Rebirth or Tired Retread of a Failed Idea?," Economic Development Quarterly, , vol. 34(4), pages 325-342, November.
    15. Stefania Cardinaleschi & Mirella Damiani & Fabrizio Pompei, 2020. "Knowledge-intensive sectors and the role of collective performance-related pay," Industry and Innovation, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 27(5), pages 480-512, May.
    16. White, Michael & Bryson, Alex, 2018. "HPWS in the Public Sector: Are There Mutual Gains?," IZA Discussion Papers 11965, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    17. Uwe Jirjahn, 2016. "Works Councils and Employer Attitudes toward the Incentive Effects of HRM Practices," Research Papers in Economics 2016-07, University of Trier, Department of Economics.
    18. Pablo Cotler, 2020. "Does it pay to cooperate? The case of cooperatives in the Mexican manufacturing sector," Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 91(4), pages 497-517, December.
    19. Geert Braam & Erik Poutsma, 2015. "Broad-Based Financial Participation Plans and Their Impact on Financial Performance: Evidence from a Dutch Longitudinal Panel," De Economist, Springer, vol. 163(2), pages 177-202, June.
    20. Arpita Agnihotri & Saurabh Bhattacharya, 2019. "ESOPs AND NEW PRODUCT LAUNCH: CONDITIONAL EFFECTS OF FINANCIAL SLACK AND OWNERSHIP CONCENTRATION," International Journal of Innovation Management (ijim), World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., vol. 24(03), pages 1-21, April.

    More about this item


    sickness absence; quits; job search; share ownership; effort; gift exchange; incentives;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J33 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Compensation Packages; Payment Methods
    • J54 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor-Management Relations, Trade Unions, and Collective Bargaining - - - Producer Cooperatives; Labor Managed Firms
    • J63 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Turnover; Vacancies; Layoffs
    • M52 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics - - - Compensation and Compensation Methods and Their Effects

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp8537. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: . General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a bibliographic reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: Holger Hinte (email available below). General contact details of provider: .

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.