written by Ben Wilhelm, President, Carolinas Region, Shiel Sexton

Originally posted on LinkedIn on December 14, 2017. To read additional article written by Ben Wilhelm, view his LinkedIn page.


As of 2016, over 14 million US employees and 10% of corporations had some form of employee ownership. Employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) are effective vehicles to promote business succession, shared prosperity, firm survival, and provide inherent tax advantages because income held in the ESOP are tax deferred. There is plenty of evidence to suggest ESOP firms promote higher job satisfaction and loyalty compared to non-employee owned structures. However, what do you do when an employee has real ownership, but does not feel like an owner?


To have mental ownership, employee owners need to feel like the job and company is MINE! Feelings of ownership include 1) a sense of job control, 2) essential knowledge of the job, and 3) investment of self in the job and company. In other words, ‘I own this; I know my work; this job is who I am.’ The theoretical term is Psychological Ownership, and it is a big deal within employee owned companies where people may have real ownership, but not feel as though they have much involvement.


To promote feelings of ownership, leaders need to recognize their choices influence workforce behavior. In employee owned firms, empowering people to have control over their job and access to information is paramount. This may be accomplished by assessing job complexity and assigning people to roles where they are challenged and responsible for outcomes – this activates a person’s sense of commitment, job satisfaction, and identity within the firm. Many people want to work in companies and on jobs where their productivity matters. Transparency promotes trust and a sense of belonging to the company. It is really important for leaders to share quality information so employee owners are informed and knowledgeable about more than stamping out widgets and answering service calls – help everyone understand the big picture and it will activate organizational citizenship.


If you are a leader within an employee owned firm, trust that your employees yearn for more responsibility and accountability. Issuing shares of stock may not prompt employees to behave like owners unless you expect more of your people. In fact, they may become free-riders who stand in line to collect group rewards of ownership, but feel no motivation to work harder as if they owned it. If you are an employee owner who doesn’t feel much like an owner, what can you do to change it? Have you shown the courage to challenge leadership to think about promoting a workplace where everyone feels ownership? If you are a leader or employee owner within a company, and you feel like there is a culture of ownership, keep seeking to understand how you got there. Supporting a culture of ownership is hard work that requires your team to always be intentional in promoting the feeling, ‘this is MINE!’

Note: Ben serves as ESOP Chair at Shiel Sexton Company. We Build for People Who Expect More.


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