An ESOP is not the only way for employees to own a company, but it is by far the most common. Although the concept was almost unknown until 1974, by 2014, about 7,000 companies had ESOPs covering 13.5 million employees, according to the National Center for Employee Ownership, a nonprofit membership group that provides information and research on ESOPs.
An ESOP can work in a variety of ways. Employees can buy stock directly, be offered it as a bonus, receive stock options or obtain stock through a profit-sharing plan. Some employees become owners through worker cooperatives in which every staffer has an equal vote.
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