Throughout this recession, I notice that the theme of morale has been aired more and more frequently in the business press. My own column, with its special interest in stress management training and executive health, has often examined the important issue of team morale.

But now many UAE commentators are taking a closer look at one proven way to stimulate team morale, and that is by offering stock options to qualified employees.

It's easy to see how this impacts on the corporate body — an obvious incentive for pulling together, and thereby increasing motivation. But for various reasons, this has never been part of UAE culture, up to now. Local laws make it difficult, except via an offshore setup, which is a barrier to implementation of such a scheme. The prevalence of family-run businesses in UAE may also work against wider share ownership. (They have different strategies for maintaining morale and increasing motivation.) Also, the expatriate element, often transient, presents a further obstacle to this method of motivating employees, both in good times or bad.

Talent retention

As a stress management specialist, based in UK, I have had plenty of experience of organisations, large and small, that have tried offering employee stock options to assist in top talent retention, with varying degrees of success.

The idea of employee-shareholders does, of course, look like the ideal arrangement — a blend of good HR and prudent business planning. And at its best, it does deliver impressive results, including an excellent impact on morale and also executive wellbeing. I must say, however, that I have only known one case that stands out as a really inspiring example, which was based around a teenage genius who was at university with one of my daughters.

Arnold was an expert in computer viruses (a huge cause of work stress!) before most people had even heard of them. With four other students, he managed to set up an anti-virus consultancy, but couldn't afford salaries for the first year. Instead he issued shares.

Today his firm is right at the top of its market, and those four young men are sitting on shareholdings that have steadily grown, year on year, and have given each if them, security.

Other cases I observed, however, have not had such favourable results on motivation.

Issuing shares because you can't afford salaries may possibly be a sign of desperation, which could give negative signals, both within the organisation and to the outside market — thereby affecting the share-price unfavourably.

Have you ever been offered stock options?

Was it a successful motivation? What is your opinion generally of this kind of employee incentive?

Key points

  • Employee-shareholders often benefit by high morale.
  • Stock options can increase motivation dramatically.
  • Sharedealing can be a form of gambling — potentially a bad habit.

The author is a BBC guest-broadcaster and motivational speaker. She is CEO of an international stress management and employee wellbeing consultancy based in London. Contact the consultancy for proven stress strategies: