0 hidden charges. 0 forex

ESOPs vs RSUs: Which One is Right for You?

Reviewed by
Created on
November 15, 2022


What’s Inside

Most salaried employees know that companies incentivise them for diligent work. It can come as Employee Stock Option Plan (ESOPs) or Restricted Stock Units (RSUs). Understanding how RSUs vs ESOPs compare is important as you can make the most of the shares allotted to you through either of these routes.

What Are ESOPs?

ESOPs, or Employee Stock Option Plans, are schemes offered by companies where select employees have the opportunity to purchase company stocks at discounted prices. The purchase price and future exercise date are predetermined.

ESOPs have a vesting period, usually at least a year, during which employees must remain employed. At the end of the vesting period, employees can exercise their options to buy shares if it's financially advantageous. Lower grant prices compared to market prices on the vesting date can make exercising ESOPs profitable.

An Example of How ESOPs Work

Say you work in a company that has launched an ESOP with the following particulars —

  • Eligible employees receive 100 options on April 1, 2022
  • The ESOPs have a 3-year vesting period
  • The grant price is Rs. 200 per share

Being an eligible employee, you receive your 100 ESOPs. And on April 1, 2025, three years from the ESOP issue date, you can choose to exercise your options. If the market price of the company's shares is greater than the grant price of Rs. 200, you can use your ESOPs to buy the shares at a lower price. But if the market price of the company's shares is less than the grant price of Rs. 200, you can wait and exercise your ESOPs later — when the market price increases.

Wondering what the tax implications of holding ESOPs are? Read this blog for a detailed understadning implication of ESOPs.

What Are RSUs?

RSUs, or Restricted Stock Units, are stocks offered by companies as compensation to employees. They have a vesting period, during which employees must hold the shares. After the vesting period, employees can sell the shares for a profit if they choose to. RSUs can be in the form of shares or cash equivalents, depending on the terms of the RSU grant. Time-oriented restrictions require employees to remain with the company until the RSUs are unlocked.

Restrictions Related to RSUs

1. Time-oriented restrictions

As mentioned above, some RSUs can only be sold after a specific period. Usually, the employee has to remain at the company during the vesting period to unlock the RSUs allotted to them.

‍2. Milestone-oriented restrictions

Some RSUs come with milestone-based limits, where they can only sell their holdings after achieving a specific company milestone. It encourages employees and acts as an incentive for them to perform better.

‍3. Time+Milestone-oriented restrictions

Only after the employee has achieved the milestone and a particular vesting period is complete can the RSUs be sold.

An Example of How RSUs Work

Let's say you work as a sales manager in a company that has issued RSUs with the following particulars:

  • You are eligible for 100 shares of the company
  • The restriction is milestone-based
  • Achieve a sales figure of ₹1 crore to unlock the restrictions

Let's assume that you achieve this sales figure 18 months after you've been allotted the RSUs. You can then choose to hold the stocks or sell them based on the prevailing market conditions.

The key differences between ESOPs and RSUs

Although both these kinds of employee-oriented stock issues have many similarities, there are also several differences between ESOPs and RSUs. Check out how ESOPs vs RSUs compare in the table below.




Nature of issue

Options are issued.

Stocks are issued.


A grant price is fixed when the ESOPs are issued.

No specific price is set for RSUs.

Voting rights for shareholders 

Shares purchased via ESOPs come with voting rights.

RSUs allotted to employees do not carry any voting rights.


Shares purchased via ESOPs may offer dividends to shareholders.

RSUs do not give shareholders any dividend benefits.

Option to purchase shares

ESOPs give employees an option to purchase the shares after the vesting period.

RSUs are directly allotted to the employees as shares once the restrictions are met.

Nature of limitations

ESOPs typically come with a vesting period, after which employees can purchase the shares.

The nature of limitations associated with RSUs can be time-based, milestone-based or a combination of the two.

Nature of settlement

Shares of the company

Shares or cash equivalents

Type of companies that issue these shares

High-growth startups and young companies

Older and more established companies


Understanding the differences between RSUs and ESOPs is crucial for employees to gauge if they've received fair appraisals. ESOPs involve the option to purchase company shares at a predetermined grant price, providing potential profits. On the other hand, RSUs are restricted stocks that employees receive as compensation and can be sold after a vesting period or upon achieving specific milestones. While ESOPs offer voting rights and dividend benefits, RSUs do not. These distinctions make it essential to assess how the issuing companies value their employees.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why are RSUs taxed so high?

The rate of tax on RSUs is not very high. In case of shares of listed companies, the tax rate is just 15% if the holding period is less than a year. But if the holding period is more than a year, your gains are tax-free. 

If the RSUs are from an unlisted company, they are taxed at your slab rate (for holding periods of less than a year) or at 20% with indexation benefits (for holding periods of more than a year).

2. Are RSUs worth it?

Restricted Stock Units (RSUs) help boost employee morale and act as an incentive for employees to perform better. And they help employees partake in the results of their hard work by giving them shares of the company, so they can benefit from the stock appreciation and the growth of the company. So, for established companies that have a strong market presence, they are definitely worth it.

3. What are the biggest factors that influence an ESOP/stock price?

The company's financial performance and market conditions are the two biggest factors influencing ESOP/stock prices. Both determine the value of the company and the demand for shares of the company

4. Why is opting for ESOPs a good idea?

Opting for ESOPs can be a good idea for employees if they are confident of the company's growth. In case the company gets listed or acquired, ESOPs can provide a significant financial boost to the employee.


Investment and securities are subject to market risks. Please read all the related documents carefully before investing. The contents of this article are for informational purposes only, and not to be taken as a recommendation to buy or sell securities, mutual funds, or any other financial products.
Share this article
Copied Link!
Personal Finance
ESOPs vs RSUs: Which One is Right for You?


View similar articles in
Personal Finance
Get the Fi app