Barbara Baksa, Executive Director of the National Association of Stock Plan Professionals (NASPP) identifies five trends in the usage of restricted stock and units, from the 2016 Domestic Stock Plan Design Survey, co-sponsored by the NASPP and Deloitte Consulting.

Trend #1: Use of time-based stock grants and awards is still on the rise.

The percentage of companies issuing stock grants and awards increased by 10 percent since our last survey (up from 81 percent in our 2013 survey to 89 percent in 2016). In addition, among those companies that use restricted stock and unit awards, close to 40 percent of respondents report that their usage of these vehicles has increased at some level of their organization over the past three years, while only 18 percent report decreased usage over the same time period. Overall, that nets out to greater usage of restricted stock and units by more companies than in past surveys.

Trend #2: Time-based stock grants and awards are the equity vehicle most frequently granted to lower-ranking employees.

Stock grants and awards are the equity vehicles most commonly granted to lower-ranking employees, with 77 percent of respondents granting awards to middle management (approximately three times the percentage of respondents that grant either stock options or performance awards at this employee rank). Fifty-two percent of respondents grant restricted stock/units to other exempt employees (compared to 13 percent for stock options and 11 percent for performance awards) and 19 percent grant these awards to nonexempt employees (compared to 7 percent for stock options and 3 percent for performance awards).

Trend #3: Time-based stock grants and awards are also common at the top of the house.

Stock grants and awards are even more common for senior-level employees with 79 percent of respondents granting awards to the CEO, CFO, and named executives, and 84 percent granting awards to other senior management. The five-point drop in usage of restricted stock/units at the CEO, CFO, and NEO level as compared to other senior management is likely due to the increased usage of performance awards in the C-suite.

Trend #4: Restricted stock units are the vehicle of choice among various types of time-based full-value awards.

The 2016 survey saw a continuation in the shift away from restricted stock awards toward restricted stock units. Respondents reporting that they currently grant restricted stock awards* dropped from 44 percent in 2013 to 31 percent in 2016, while respondents currently granting restricted stock units* increased from 77 percent in 2013 to 83 percent in 2016.

* Awards not in lieu of cash.

Trend #5: Awards are most commonly granted on an annual frequency.

The overwhelming majority of companies that make grants of stock and units do so on an annual basis (ranging from 95 percent of respondents for CEOs, CFOs, and named executives to 75 percent of respondents for nonexempt employees). In addition to annual grants, stock/units are most frequently awarded upon hire, promotion, and for retention purposes.

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