This study investigates how the effect of employee stock ownership on financial performance may hinge on the diverse cultural and societal contexts of European countries. Based on agency and national culture theories, we hypothesize that the positive relationship between employee stock ownership and return on assets (ROA) is stronger in those nations with lower uncertainty avoidance and higher social trust. Using a multi-source, time‐lagged, large‐scale dataset of 1,741 firms from 21 countries in Europe, our multilevel, random coefficient modeling analysis found evidence for these hypotheses, suggesting that uncertainty avoidance and social trust serve as important contextual cues in predicting the linkage between employee stock ownership and financial performance. Our supplemental analysis with distinction between the managerial and non-managerial employee stock ownership further indicates managerial employee stock ownership has a direct positive effect on ROA. Although non-managerial employee stock ownership had a non-significant association with ROA, the relationship was positive and significant when uncertainty avoidance was low and social trust was high. This research contributes to the existing literature by illuminating some of the contextual influences altering the effectiveness of employee stock ownership. Our findings also offer practical suggestions for effectively using employee stock ownership.