The Difference Between RSUs, ESOPs, and SARs

2 min read
Apr 2, 2024 5:00:00 PM

In the realm of employee compensation, RSUs (Restricted Stock Units), ESOPs (Employee Stock Ownership Plans), and SARs (Stock Appreciation Rights) are commonly used instruments. While all related to employee stock rewards, they differ fundamentally in how they operate and the benefits they offer. Let's delve into the unique features of each instrument.

Restricted Stock Units (RSUs)

RSUs are a form of stock compensation where employees do not have direct ownership of shares until the settlement date. Once granted, employees have rights to the shares, but they are actually issued at a later date, typically after specific performance or time-based conditions are met.

Key Features of RSUs

  • Granting of shares without actual ownership until the settlement date.
  • Vesting conditions such as years of service, performance goals, or specific dates.
  • Shares are issued at the settlement date at no cost to the employee.

Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs)

ESOPs are company-wide plans where employees receive shares of the company as part of their compensation package. These shares are often held in a trust until the employee retires or leaves the company, after which they can be sold.

Key Features of ESOPs

  • Employees acquire shares as part of their retirement or compensation package.
  • Shares are often held in a trust until the employee retires.
  • The value of the shares is related to the company's performance.

Stock Appreciation Rights (SARs)

SARs are rights where employees have the right to receive a cash amount equal to the increase in value of a certain number of shares from the grant date to the exercise date.

Key Features of SARs

  • Employees receive a cash amount equal to the increase in the value of shares.
  • No actual ownership of the shares but participation in stock price appreciation.
  • Flexibility in plan structuring and tax benefits for employees.


RSUs, ESOPs, and SARs are all valuable tools for employee compensation, but they operate in different ways. RSUs offer the promise of future shares, ESOPs foster employee engagement through company shares, and SARs provide a cash bonus based on stock value appreciation. Each scheme has its own unique benefits and can be tailored to the needs and goals of both the company and employees. Understanding these differences is crucial in setting up effective reward programs. Contact our experts for personalized advice on which plan best suits your company and employees.

Share Council provides expert advice and guidance in choosing and implementing RSUs, ESOPs, and SARs. We assist your company in setting up customized reward programs. Contact us for tailored advice.