Should I Participate in My Companies Employee Stock Purchase Plan?

Employee Stock Purchase Plans, ESPP are frequently offered as a perk by many large-scale, publicly traded companies. With employee stock purchase plans, companies offer employees the chance to own a part of their future, as well as their place of employment through stocks. An employer will usually offer a discounted price for shares in the company. Often, companies will also allow the payment on the cost of the stock to be deducted directly from a paycheck, eliminating the hassle of paperwork, as well as spreading the cost over a span of time.

Stock purchase plans benefit everyone involved. The employer gets the boost in revenue shares through the employees buying stocks. This allows the company more assets to innovate and expand. The employer also gets to tout the fact that the company is employee owned thus attracting the best and brightest talent who are enticed by the possibility of owning a portfolio. The price of the employer’s stock may also rise if enough of the employees buy enough shares to force a price hike. The employee gets a discounted share in the company, a vote in the share-holders’ meeting, and the pride of owning a portfolio. There is also the distinct possibility that the stock may mature and grow which would net the employee a tidy little profit.

Of course, there are downsides to this form of employee compensation. As a stock can rise dramatically leading to exponential profit, it can also decline sharply eliminating your stock purchase or at the very least rendering them almost worthless. This is a continuing source of anxiety for investors. If your company’s CEO resigns and the stock that you just purchased drops, there is a real potential that you may instantly lose money. If that hypothetical were to happen your company could also lose much money in the blink of an eye as the price of their shares also drops.

This demonstrates the need to be conservative when playing the market, even when it comes to employee stock purchase programs. Only invest in the employee stock program if you truly believe in the company that you work for. If you really believe that they will not only be around in five years but also will be posting a profit, then by all means, invest in your workplace. If you think that management is incompetent and the products are shoddy, then don’t waste your time or money. Other red flag warnings to decline on an ESPP include recent scandals, deficits, and reduction of other benefits. These can be indicators that the company is not on stable financial ground and needs to raise funds.

A good rule of thumb to follow when it comes to the employee plans is this; Would I invest in this company even if I didn’t work for it? If the answer is yes, then go see Human Resources and fill out the paperwork. If the answer is no, then ignore the discount being offered and leave your money in your wallet.