Looking Deeper Into the Minds of Participants

By Emily Cervino, Fidelity Stock Plan Services

October 18, 2016

When it comes down to it, we grant equity compensation for the benefit of the recipients. We aren’t granting awards for the joy of accounting for them, nor for the fun of taxing them. We want employees to be happy with their awards, and we want the awards to drive motivation, loyalty, and retention.

So, with these lofty goals for equity awards, it is prudent to check in with participants to see if stock plans are working as intended. Assessing equity plans simply by reporting on plan figures, such as restricted stock releases processed, value delivered, compensation expense, and ESPP participation tells only half the story. The other half is held by participants and answers questions like these: “Are employees satisfied with their awards?” or “Do employees believe they work harder because of awards?” and “Are these awards impacting employee retention?”  But even that only tells part of the story.  We have to dive even deeper to be able to tell whether results are impacted by award type, by age, or by job level.  And, more importantly, are there other ways to impact these results?

Because inquiring minds want to know, Fidelity Stock Plan Services undertakes an extensive biannual survey to understand the participant side of the story, which can help plan sponsors to be more effective with their offerings. The survey results are lengthy, so, for today, I’ve just focused on Satisfaction.  And, the good news is, that the majority of employees (56%) are very satisfied with their stock plan, and nearly 8 in 10 are very or somewhat satisfied.




But that is just the beginning of the story.  When we look deeper, we also find:

  • Restricted Stock is the most satisfying, with 59% of participants reporting that they are very satisfied.
  • ESPP rates quite well. Given that ESPP value is often significantly lower than RSU value, it may be surprising that the satisfaction level is pretty close, with 55% of ESPP participants identifying themselves as very satisfied.
  • Stock Options are in last place, with less than half (49%) of stock option participants responding that they’re very satisfied.

Another factor at play here is the employee level.  Executives are most satisfied with equity programs, with mid-level and broad-based participants reporting nearly identical satisfaction. And, overall, U.S. participants tend to be more satisfied than their counterparts in other countries.

These insights are very striking but, what I found most interesting, are the other drivers of satisfaction.  We found two key factors that influence satisfaction (as well as most of the other measures in the survey).  Those factors are stock price optimism and stock plan understandingWhile optimism may not be something that is easily controlled, understanding is absolutely a lever that most equity professionals can influence. Education and communication are drivers of stock plan understanding, and, the data show participants are 43% more likely to be very satisfied with their stock plan when they understand it.

A small investment in stock plan education and communication can pay big dividends with respect to plan effectiveness, not just for satisfaction, but also for motivation, loyalty and a sense of ownership. Stock plan professionals everywhere, start your education engines!

Be sure to register for our upcoming webinar, Looking Deeper into the Minds of Participants, on November 10th at 11am PT for even more details from the survey.


cervino_outdoor_landcape2-crop_webEmily Cervino is the Vice President, Fidelity Stock Plan Services and focuses on strategic marketing initiatives, thought leadership, and building Fidelity’s strong industry presence. Emily is a frequent speaker at equity compensation events, past president of the Silicon Valley Chapter of the NASPP, and a member of NASPP, GEO, and NCEO. Emily is a Certified Equity Professional (CEP), and she holds Series 7 and 63 securities registrations.


Source: Fidelity Stock Plan Services 2016 Participant Survey, March 14, 2016–April 11, 2016—

2,114 respondents across 140 Fidelity Stock Plan Services client companies.


Views expressed are as of the date indicated and may change based on market and other conditions. Unless otherwise noted, the opinions provided are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Fidelity Investments.


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