Profit sharing refers to various incentive plans introduced by businesses that provide direct or indirect payments to employees that depend on company's profitability in addition to employees' regular salary and bonuses. In publicly traded companies these plans typically amount to allocation of shares to employees. One of the earliest pioneers of profit sharing was Englishman Theodore Cooke Taylor, who is known to have introduced the practice in his woollen mills during the late 1800s .
The profit sharing plans are based on predetermined economic sharing rules that define the split of gains between the company as a principal and the employee as an agent. For example, suppose the profits are , which might be a random variable. Before knowing the profits, the principal and agent might agree on a sharing rule . Here, the agent will receive and the principal will receive the residual gain .
The share of profits paid to the management or to the board of directors is sometimes called the tantième. This French term is generally applied in describing the business and finance practices of certain European countries, including Germany, France, Belgium, and Sweden. It is usually paid in addition to the manager's (or director's) fixed salary and bonuses (bonuses usually depend on profits as well, and often bonuses and tantieme are treated as the same thing); laws vary from country to country.
In the United States, a profit sharing plan can be set up where all or some of the employee's profit sharing amount can be contributed to a retirement plan. These are often used in conjunction with 401(k) plans.
Gainsharing is a program that returns cost savings to the employees, usually as a lump-sum bonus. It is a productivity measure, as opposed to profit-sharing which is a profitability measure. There are three major types of gainsharing: