The urge to launch a start-up would shrivel up, they also warned. Silicon Valley got its start because Fairchild Camera and Instrument wouldn't give its engineers stock options. Defectors went onto found Intel, National Semiconductor and Advanced Micro Devices, among other companies.
These fears, though, seem overblown. Overall, rank-and-file tech workers contacted have applauded the move. And so far, there have been no reports of Redmond, Wash., residents exclaiming, "What? You're getting rid of options in favor of stock? That's it--I'm going to Unisys."
Although the extra money options bring is always welcome, very few people come away from the experience of exercising stock options feeling good about themselves. Somehow, you always mess it up.
First, there is the pricing game. No matter what happens, someone in the office always manages to unload his or her shares at a higher price than you do.
Somehow, you always mess it up.
The next day, the price skyrocketed. Traders, he learned later, knew workers would rush to unload shares, so they stayed out of the market that day to exploit panic selling.
At his next job, he abstained from activity on the first day of the open period. That day marked the all-time high for the stock price.
Then there are the tax issues. Those who sell early, pay a higher tax rate and, occasionally, penalties for a failure to prepay income tax.
Still, it's doubtful that this shift will create Soviet-style workplace laziness.
By contrast, the Microsoft plan brings certainty: Employees get shares of stock over a five-year vesting period. They must pay income tax when they receive the shares, but they can accrue long-term gains without laying out their own money (a requirement with options) or forking over for AMT. They just have to hold onto them. The potential for stupidity remains--but it's far lessened.
Still, it's doubtful that this shift will create Soviet-style workplace laziness. After all, employees will still get equity which, depending on the amount given and the company's fortunes, could still make an individual a millionaire. It's not as if companies that adopt equity plans will instead try to motivate their people by giving them shoes or early entry to the company rummage sale.
Start-ups will continue to flourish as well. Tech remains one of the few industries where creative breakthroughs can lead to unexpected, sudden wealth. Getting in on the ground floor will remain as strong a motive as ever.