About Employee Ownership

Companies where employees own a significant stake in the company they work for – sometimes termed ‘co-owned’ businesses – now account for combined annual turnover in excess of £25 billion, more than 2% of GDP and growing.

Employee ownership can take one of three forms:

  • Direct employee ownership – using one or more tax advantaged share plans, employees become registered individual shareholders of a majority of the shares in their company;
  • Indirect employee ownership – shares are held collectively on behalf of employees, normally through an employee trust;
  • Combined direct and indirect ownership – a combination of individual and collective share ownership.

Employee ownership typically happens in one of the following scenarios:

  • Business succession or ownership succession – private owners, such as an entrepreneur or family business, decide to sell to their workforce. The most typical route into employee ownership.
  • Professional partnerships - partners might decide to broaden ownership to cover most or all employees, reflecting the need to attract, retain and motivate talented people. 
  • Insolvency or closure threat – employee buy–outs can prove an effective route to recovery for businesses that might otherwise fail.
  • Independence – companies may decide that a significant and even majority employee stakeholding will demonstrate and help protect the company's independence.
  • Privatisation – bus services and other privatisations have provided occasional opportunities for employee buy-outs.
  • Owner vision – as in the case of John Lewis, Arup Group or Scott Bader, the founder of a business opts for employee ownership at the outset of the business or later.

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