Written by Vince Poplaski and Aaron Shapiro
It started with a pretty straightforward request from our senior leadership team and compensation and HR committee at Aramark. Speciﬁcally, the goal was to review market competitive practices related to employee stock purchase plans (ESPPs) and to determine whether offering one would align with our people and business strategies.
Like many employers, we’re focused on attracting and retaining top talent across organizational functions and job levels.
Throughout the course of 10 months of research and cross-functional meetings with various Aramark stakeholders, such as HR, ﬁnance, legal, communications and labor relations, we determined that more than half of our labor market peers offer ESPPs — most of them tax-qualiﬁed — and that offering one to our employees would align with our people and business strategies.
That said, we wanted to do something differently. We liked the idea of ESPPs — in that they provide employees equity ownership opportunities and align corporate, shareholder and employee interests. What we didn’t like is that ESPPs require payroll deductions for funding, which can price out certain employees. This did not sit well with us. So, we searched for a solution to this issue, which is how we found Carver Edison’s Cashless Participation® offering and why we included it as a critical design feature.
We launched our global ESPP, known internally as myShare, on April 1, 2021. Our inaugural jurisdictions were the United States and Puerto Rico. We later expanded to Canada in Q4 2021, and we have plans, throughout 2023, for continued global expansion.
Because this is a securities beneﬁt and a personal investment decision on the part of the employee, we relied heavily on our corporate and HR communications teams at Aramark to develop communication content and devise an effective roll-out strategy.
Engagement began with a communication from the CEO announcing this new beneﬁt to the leadership team and reinforcing its importance as a component of Aramark’s employee beneﬁts portfolio. That was followed by a communication from our HR leadership to the HR and manager communities describing the new beneﬁt and inviting recipients to join myShare educational sessions targeted at our HR and manager communities. Once HR and people managers had the opportunity to understand this new beneﬁt, we then launched our broad awareness campaign via email and residential postcards to all eligible employees.
We worked with Carver Edison to develop an ESPP website for myShare, which contains educational content as well as the enrollment platform. To bridge the online and offline experience, we included QR codes in all offline materials, such as postcards that were sent home and posters that were created to be hung across our thousands of account sites.
"A big part of our communications strategy has been to provide on-demand multimedia (videos, infographics, long and short-form content) and ongoing multilingual support. We want employees to be equipped with the information they need to make the decision whether participating is right for them."
In the nine months since its launch, nearly 10,000 Aramark employees have taken advantage of myShare. The vast majority are ﬁrst-time Aramark shareholders. As we continue to promote awareness of this new ﬁnancial beneﬁt and roll it out globally, we expect participation levels to continue to rise, given myShare’s competitive plan design and its Cashless Participation® feature from Carver Edison.
How we address questions at Carver Edison is central to how we run our business. Why? Because eligible employees don’t participate in their plans for two reasons: lack of affordability and understanding of their plan. Carver Edison solves for these through Cashless Participation® and a robust communication strategy.
The biggest obstacles to rolling out an employee stock purchase plan to more than 90,000 eligible employees at Aramark came in the form of unknowns. We were armed with strong cross-functional support, but we didn’t know what we didn’t know. Looking back, I wish I had an industry peer as a resource to guide me through the operational execution. Having rolled out the plan successfully, I’m happy to be that resource for others, and to share some of the key takeaways the organization gleaned through the process. For example: Understand the regulatory landscape. We worked with internal and external securities, employment, and tax counsel to understand adherence to varying and laws and regulations. There are a lot of nuances, even within the U.S., related to varying state tax law, so be prepared to spend time on this. Partner with labor relations early. At Aramark, a signiﬁcant number of our employees in the U.S. and Canada are covered by varying collective bargaining agreements. We worked closely with our terriﬁc Labor Relations partners to secure support and ensure covered employees understood this new beneﬁt.
Spend time on the communications strategy and don’t underestimate social media. We have a large and dispersed workforce, and we wanted to make sure we were getting the message about this beneﬁt across in ways that would meet our employees where they were — such as postcards to employee homes with QR codes to easily access the enrollment platform, email campaigns, internal training sessions/office hours, and even social media campaigns.
Simplicity and clarity are core to our employee educational support. Common questions that we receive include: “What is Cashless Participation® and how does it work?” to “I’m a new hire and interested in signing up. What are the eligibility requirements?” and “What’s a lookback provision and how does it work?”
Our team at Carver Edison built a proprietary calculator that we’ve found is the most successful way to help employees understand their plan, their plan design and how it works. ESPPs can be abstract, and our calculator crystallizes the impact for them, meaning how participation hits their paycheck and what ownership could look like for them, both with and without Cashless Participation®. We also make plans easy to understand by explaining industry jargon in simple terms, and using other supporting materials like videos and infographics.
"The biggest advantages of implementing an ESPP is the ability to directly align a workforce with the success of the company, making it a fantastic retention tool. ESPPs are also a way to give employees upward ﬁnancial mobility in a way that’s accretive to the company."
Unlike restricted stock units (RSUs), which can cause a tremendous tax burden for those they’re intended to help the most and which are usually tied to compensation level (not to mention restricted for a period of time), ESPPs provide direct and immediate company alignment — especially a Cashless Participation®-enhanced ESPP.
The biggest drawbacks are conquerable. First, communication is incredibly important. Employees need to know and understand their plan, if they’re going to participate in it. Additionally, inertia is strong and some companies are hesitant of giving their employees too much of an opportunity to purchase stock because they’re concerned about their company shares being in the open market.
At Aramark, we learned not to overlook the importance of starting the project with a cross-functional due diligence effort and selecting partners, such as Carver Edison and E*TRADE, who are committed to providing inclusive employee beneﬁts.
In our implementation, we relied heavily on leveraging the strong partnerships we built during due diligence, especially with the HR, labor relations, communications, legal, payroll, ﬁnancial reporting, treasury, investor relations and tax teams, which helped mitigate the amount of surprises once we obtained shareholder approval and began our North America rollout. Additionally, effectively communicating the beneﬁt is critical, and the development of our myShare website and the employee communication materials promoted broad awareness and employee education.
Vince Poplaski is the vice president of executive compensation at Aramark.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aaron Shapiro is the CEO and Founder of Carver Edison.
He can be reached at email@example.com.
To access the WorkSpan Q2 2022 article click here.
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