What do people think employee share ownership schemes do for them? A qualitative study of participants’ experiences in three UK share schemes

© 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group Research has produced mixed findings about the impact of participation in employee share ownership (ESO) schemes on employee attitudes and behaviours. Analyses of how participants themselves interpret ESO’s effects could contribute to both theory-building and empirical evidence, but have not, to date, been undertaken. We conducted semi-structured interviews with 37 participants in three tax-advantaged ESO schemes in nine companies within the United Kingdom. Employees tended to feel that ESO had not increased their motivation, commitment or performance because they were already exhibiting these at a high level, as any good employee should. Even where this occurred, there was little evidence that employees thought ESO had strong effects, with the exception of staying with the company long enough to get a financial payoff. For some, this payoff was far from certain to materialise. There was some evidence that ESO was perceived to lead to a greater general sense of inclusion and that feeling special (e.g. being selected to participate) enhanced the perceived effects of ESO. We highlight the important roles of expectancy and instrumentality (expectancy theory) and conclude that the employee experience of ESO reflects theory in some respects, but also offers new elements that theory may need to incorporate.