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Employee ownership in the US: some issues on ESOPs – overcoming the barriers to further development

Joseph Blasi (School of Mgt and Labor Relations, Rutgers University, Piscataway, New Jersey, USA)
Adria Scharf (Institute for the Study of Employee Ownership and Profit Sharing, Rutgers University, Piscataway, New Jersey, USA)
Douglas Kruse (School of Management and Labor Relations, Rutgers University, Piscataway, New Jersey, USA)

Journal of Participation and Employee Ownership

ISSN: 2514-7641

Article publication date: 25 December 2023




This viewpoint will present some statistical information about employee ownership in the US and interpret and analyze this information in order to address the barriers question using material from qualitative interviews that the authors have conducted over the last ten years with practitioners in the field. There have been few actual empirical studies that sort out the different barriers to employee ownership. The authors have chosen to focus on employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) in the US because this is the principal example from which people could learn from, and the high prevalence of ESOPs plays an important role in the US. This overview will present interpretations of these interviews with conceptual arguments that cannot always be supported with either overwhelming empirical studies or arguments that conclusively eliminate one or other explanation. This is an initial attempt to bring some comprehensive treatment and data to this incipient discussion. This is based on an interpretive analysis of qualitative interviews without quantification or social survey methods used for measurement. The advantage of this approach is that it lays out a completely different level of analysis of the barriers to employee ownership in the US that is “closer to the ground” and more based in the views of front-line practitioners who are actually implementing it.


Analysis and interpretation of qualitative interviews.


The list of barriers that has been identified is not exhaustive. The preliminary conclusions are that (not necessarily in this order) limitations of investment banking models, poor supportive infrastructure, complexity and cost and regulatory issues, the lack of support by political parties and social movements, the sale of companies due to financial considerations and legal complexities and lack of clarity and resistance by Federal agencies are major barriers in the US. Various sectors of Wall Street has been amenable to employee ownership with the proper government and private sector support. What is needed now is a series of quantitative surveys and qualitative interviews of retiring business owners in closely held companies and of CEOs and CFOs in stock market companies in order to gauge the barriers that they believe are blocking their own action in the employee share ownership area. The Rutgers Institute for the Study of Employee Ownership and Profit Sharing is working on such a research agenda at this time. In addition, with the future size of the US employee ownership sector at stake, a more intensive one-year interview project would make sense in order to present these different explanations to key actors and practitioners and ask them to provide evidence to prove or disprove the relevance of the different barriers.

Research limitations/implications

Empirical research which can resolve which barriers are more important than others is presented, when possible; however, studies that provide metrics to compare different barriers are not available and need to be carried out.

Practical implications

Other countries considering employee ownership policies can learn from the US experience. US policymakers and legislators can learn from an original, recent discussion of barriers.

Social implications

If employee ownership sectors are to be developed, a careful discussion of barriers is most relevant.


Original document by the authors based on original interviews.



Blasi, J., Scharf, A. and Kruse, D. (2023), "Employee ownership in the US: some issues on ESOPs – overcoming the barriers to further development", Journal of Participation and Employee Ownership, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2023, Emerald Publishing Limited

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