Back in the good times of the 90's, all it took was holding onto stock options for a few years to be rich. Options have become so ingrained in the culture that they've come to be expected. Companies promote them as a way to reward hard work and give you a vested interest in the company, while employees see them as a means to get rich quick, or so they did back in the 90's.
Once companies transition from growth to blue chip, there's no longer the chance to get rich, but employees don't know this, and enjoy the prospect of compensation once reserved for only upper management. Here's the cool part: employees think options are good--an increase in their "total compensation." Companies know that they have to expense the options, but the only time they get exercised is in a good market; options are a way for employers to vary employee pay by market conditions without explicitly stating that goal, while encouraging corporate loyalty.
And what does the employee get? A lottery ticket and a fluctuating, delayed paycheck. Golden handcuffs my ass.