The payment we receive for our work can take many forms. On the island of Yap in Micronesia, workers are paid in donut-shaped Rai stones for a hard day's work. Meanwhile, employers in the US pay workers in dollars.
However, some employers may include equity compensation in addition to money.
The limits of wages
The salary or wage for any job is based on a pay range determined by what companies are willing to pay for that role. And hopefully, our HR department understands how these ranges fluctuate every year and adjusts our salaries accordingly. We call any job market adjustments to our salary or wage a cost of living adjustment or merit increase.
Getting paid a wage has its limitations. Even though we can be experts at what we do and create a lot of value for the company, our paycheck is tied to specific parameters a business chooses to follow - whether it is compensation bands, tenure, or budgets. Due to that, our compensation isn’t always tied to the value we create for the company.
In most cases, a promotion or a new position with higher pay uncovers a salary or wage increase. However, promotions are limited, but companies want to keep their talent.
Equity is the equalizer
Equity, or ownership in the company, becomes the equalizer. We become owners when companies grant us shares as part of our compensation.
As we work hard and do our job well, we add value to the company. Therefore, for every dollar of value that we create for our company, a portion of that value comes directly back to us for being owners. Companies often have enormous growth potential, which means the value of our equity compensation will grow with it.
Not all outcomes are favorable. Many startups and even large companies end up failing.
The upside is that equity compensation could be worth more than the company could have ever paid us in a salary. The downside is that it could be worthless if the company goes out of business.
We shouldn't overlook our equity compensation because it could lead to tremendous wealth and be worth more than any salary we'll ever earn. However, we also need to weigh the risks of buying and holding company stock. If something terrible happened to the company, we could lose our job (our income), and our shares would be worth very little or nothing.