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Compensating Employees Below the Executive Ranks: A Comparison of Options, Restricted Stock, and Cash

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  • Paul Oyer
  • Scott Schaefer

Abstract

Using a detailed data set of employee stock option grants, we compare observed stock-option-based pay plans to hypothetical cash-only or restricted-stock-based plans. We make a variety of assumptions regarding the possible benefits of options relative to cash or stock, and then use observed option grants to make inferences regarding firms' decisions to issue options to lower-level employees. If the favorable accounting treatment is the sole reason underlying firms' choices of options over cash-only compensation, then we estimate that the median firm in our data set incurs $0.64 in real costs in order to increase reported pre-tax income by $1. This figure is several times larger than the willingness-to-pay for earnings reported by Erickson, Hanlon, and Maydew (2002), who study firms that (allegedly) commit fraud in order to boost earnings. If, on the other hand, firms' option-granting decisions are driven by economic-profit maximization then observed stock option grants are most consistent with explanations involving attraction and retention of employees.

Suggested Citation

  • Paul Oyer & Scott Schaefer, 2004. "Compensating Employees Below the Executive Ranks: A Comparison of Options, Restricted Stock, and Cash," NBER Working Papers 10221, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10221
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Jenter, Dirk, 2004. "Executive Compensation, Incentives, and Risk," Working papers 4466-02, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Sloan School of Management.
    2. Hall, Brian J. & Murphy, Kevin J., 2002. "Stock options for undiversified executives," Journal of Accounting and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 33(1), pages 3-42, February.
    3. Aboody, David, 1996. "Market valuation of employee stock options," Journal of Accounting and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 22(1-3), pages 357-391, October.
    4. Oyer, Paul & Schaefer, Scott, 2005. "Why do some firms give stock options to all employees?: An empirical examination of alternative theories," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 76(1), pages 99-133, April.
    5. Brian J. Hall & Kevin J. Murphy, 2003. "The Trouble with Stock Options," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 17(3), pages 49-70, Summer.
    6. Lucian Arye Bebchuk & Jesse M. Fried, 2003. "Executive Compensation as an Agency Problem," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 17(3), pages 71-92, Summer.
    7. Core, John E. & Guay, Wayne R., 2001. "Stock option plans for non-executive employees," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 61(2), pages 253-287, August.
    8. Brigitte C. Madrian & Dennis F. Shea, 2001. "The Power of Suggestion: Inertia in 401(k) Participation and Savings Behavior," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(4), pages 1149-1187.
    9. Bergman, Nittai K. & Jenter, Dirk, 2007. "Employee sentiment and stock option compensation," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 84(3), pages 667-712, June.
    10. Richard H. Thaler & Shlomo Benartzi, 2001. "Naive Diversification Strategies in Defined Contribution Saving Plans," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(1), pages 79-98, March.
    11. Paul Oyer, 2004. "Why Do Firms Use Incentives That Have No Incentive Effects?," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 59(4), pages 1619-1650, August.
    12. Brian J. Hall & Kevin J. Murphy, 2003. "The Trouble with Stock Options," NBER Working Papers 9784, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Huddart, Steven & Lang, Mark, 1996. "Employee stock option exercises an empirical analysis," Journal of Accounting and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(1), pages 5-43, February.
    14. Bebchuk, Lucian A. & Fried, Jesse M., 2003. "Executive Compensation as an Agency Problem," Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics, Working Paper Series qt81q3136r, Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics.
    15. Wayne Guay & Richard Sloan, 2003. "Accounting for Employee Stock Options," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(2), pages 405-409, May.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • J33 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Compensation Packages; Payment Methods

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