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Equity as a Tool for Developing Belonging in the Workplace


It’s easy to demonize Adam Neumann but there are a litany of investors, executives, and advisors who are also to blame for the WeWork outcome. They are all hypocrites and the carcasses of the WeWork employees’ financial dreams belong at their feet.


This is both enraging and personal for me because, at the time of my company's sale, every employee at the time (and any former employee who exercised their stock options) saw additional earnings commensurate with their granted stock. For more than 50% of them, that figure was five figures or more. The company's sale made three current/former employees first-generation millionaires (at least four if you count total compensation).


Many people are surprised when I tell them Social Tables was an employee-owned company and that our cap table had more than 200 rows (more than two-thirds of which were current or former employees at time of sale).


The equity payouts were in exchange for the efforts employees put forth over the years, which made the exit possible. But equity is more than a compensation instrument, it's a tool that can instill a sense of belonging for employees. Employees have literal ownership and thus feel (rightfully so) that they’re part of something less transactional and more authentic.


The difference between Social Tables and WeWork is that Social Tables distributed the equity to all employees and ensured that all employees reaped the rewards of the exit. Even after they left (many investor-backed companies do stock buybacks from exiting employees). With loyal employees and a unique culture, WeWork executed decently on creating a culture of belonging but lacked the financial instrumentation to back it up. It took advantage of employees.


Founders that are committed to creating a meaningful workplace, which employees get a sense of belonging from, should ensure that a part of their company is employee-owned.

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