March 26, 2008

Work in Taiwan--The Carrots and the Sticks

Looking back at my last job in America, compensation and discipline were fairly simple compared to work in Taiwan. Working at a good company in America, you get a salary, a health plan, possibly a 401k plan, and possibly an employee stock purchase program. In Taiwan, the base salary is quite low, but the company pays for a variety of benefits.

The most important "extra" compensation is the 14-month and sometimes even 15-month salary. An extra month's salary is given for the lunar new year, and an extra half month's salary is given for each of two other holidays, Dragon Boat Festival and Mid-Autumn Festival. In addition to the these bonuses, which are not considered benefits, gift certificates are a common gift given during holidays. Where I work, we are allowed to choose between gifts, such as vacuum cleaners or hot plates, and gift certificates for grocery stores, bookstores, etc.

The year-end activities are usually the most extravagant. There is the end-of-year meal, and there may be a year-end entertainment event. I could go on about all the money and effort spent on these productions, and the prizes given. Prizes range from new cars to instant noodles.

Where I work, funds are given to departments for various events. Upon completion of a project, I was happy to find there was a project-completion bonus, however it was paid to the department rather than myself. So that means another group dinner. Then of course is the fenhong (分紅), the yearly bonus given in stocks or cash, which can exceed the year's salary for a company with strong revenues.

Next there are big events put on by the company, events that resemble a carnival or a sports event. We get tickets to spend on food from the vendors that come to these events. Company jackets are commonly issued to all employees, and they get a lot more use than the shirts and hats that are sometimes given. Then there are the health exams. And the regular showings of movies--newly release DVDs projected on a large screen. And there is chunjiu (春酒), the department meal after the lunar new year. And I should mention the generous amount of vacation time given for marriage, pregnancy, and death of relatives. And the red envelope given by the company for marriage. And the subsidized daily meals. And subsidized language classes. And a birthday present. And the bus rides to work for employees that live in certain locations. The list goes on.

A possible reason for the low base pay and variety of fringe benefits is that when sales are down, many of the benefits can be temporarily eliminated. Also, I think it is likely that these benefits give employees a more tangible reward than does an increased salary, even though there has to be considerable overhead for all these programs. However, the better answer is that these benefits can all be tied to an increased value place on collective benefits--benefits which can be shared, either with family or with other employees, and benefits that promote the collective identity.

There is another side to the company's slightly paternalistic role. Discipline. Most of the benefits that I mentioned above are common at many companies, but I am not as familiar with the methods that companies use to discipline employees or to gently keep them in line. However, some of the methods used at my work are too precious not to share.

Example 1. Members of my department received an email stating that the department had one of the highest rates of usage of the company bulletin board (an electronic message board). You might think that a bulletin board that people use is a good thing, but apparently not. If we are leaving messages on the bulletin board then we are not working. The new rule is that employees may not post to the board during work hours. If you break the rule, you will be warned the first time, and posting a second time will result in some discipline.

Example 2. Salary is considered confidential. If you tell someone how much money you earn, you can supposedly have 10% of your salary deducted. The policy did not leave any exceptions, such as being able to let your spouse or immediate family know how much money you make.

Example 3. This one is the crown jewel of arrogance and stupidity. Employee use a PowerPoint template layout to create their presentations. As the company changes its advertising material, including its slogan, this layout is changed, perhaps about once every two years. Some lazy employees have the audacity to use a layout with an old slogan. To solve this problem, a memo was sent out stating that employees who used an old PowerPoint layout when they give a presentation to customers would have their pay docked. This one still boggles my mind. I doubt if any managers had the nerve to actually implement this policy.

Example 4. Employees are not given much control over their computers. They are allowed to study English during work time. There are even English lessons on the company network that include audio and video. However, you are not allowed have any mp3 files on the computer. Computers are periodically checked for mp3s and newly installed software. All software should theoretically be authorized, even including freeware applications that do not require installation. Files of extension .exe are blocked for download from the internet. Web-based mail is blocked. Translation services are blocked (because they could possibly used to translate a forbidden web page). Proxies are blocked. Some other entertainment web pages are blocked. In fact, any non-business web browsing is forbidden, as you are reminded every time you log in to the computer. USB ports are disconnected.

Example 5. Docking pay has been used for other actions. If you miss a class that you are enrolled for, you automatically have $500 deducted from your pay. It is possible that you did not personally enroll in the class and it also possible that you applied for vacation during the time of the class. Even so, your pay could be docked without any form of notification if you did not request an absence from the class (to be approved by a supervisor). I don't check my pay receipts very carefully, so I could have been fined for this for all I know. I have my doubts about the legality of this. I'm not sure if this policy is in place any more.

In summary, there are a variety of unique carrots and sticks used to manage and keep harmony with employees in Taiwan. As for the carrots, some of the policies are great and companies put on some spectacular events. As for the sticks, they usually are not a big deal, but can be amusing in their clumsiness.

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  • Just found today your blog and love it. It is in my RSS reader now. Well, I am also working in Taiwan, specifically in Hsinchu, already 6 months. And I could identify a lot of similarities of your company and my company, specially when you write about the benefits. However, my company does not have this disciplining you commented. Here the things go really smoothly and the employees have a great freedom to do what they want concern with their machines. They even can bring their own laptops and work on it.
    Anyway, better to keep my commentary as anonymous...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 27, 2008 11:15 PM  

  • First of all, great blog.

    I’m an American citizen currently work for a small company in South Korea and I’m curious to know how Taiwanese and Korean jobs for foreigners compare. If you don’t mind, I’d like to pose a few questions to you.

    1) Were you hired in-country?
    2) Do Taiwanese companies regularly hire foreign workers (besides for the usual EFL fare)?
    3) What types of positions are open to foreign employees?
    4) Are work visas in Taiwan controlled by the individual or the company?
    5) What type of treatment do you get from your co-workers? Do you feel as though your “part of the team?”

    For comparison’s sake: Korean companies would prefer not to hire foreign workers, and if they must, they generally hire Korean-Americans or foreigners with marriage visas. This is mostly because Korean immigration makes companies jump through a lot of hurdles to acquire work visas (or so I'm told). Non-teachers in Korea are generally relegated to editing, writing, voice acting, and other positions, though the occasional “real” job does pop up. In Korea, the employer controls your work visas. If you want to (legally) quit or change your job, you must get your employer’s permission in writing. Since the company I work for is rather small, my co-workers treat me with respect, but I’ve heard my experience is not typical of some of the larger companies out here.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 28, 2008 9:26 AM  

  • Sorry, forgot to finish my sentance:

    **Non-teachers in Korea are generally relegated to editing, writing, voice acting, and other positions ONLY A NATIVE ENGLISH SPEAKER COULD DO.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 28, 2008 9:31 AM  

  • Well... I am the owner for the first commentary in this post. I am not from a English native speaker, but I am fluent, however with strong accent. In Taiwan, if you are a foreigner without Asian background, you can easily become a English teacher. There are lot.. .but a lot foreigners teaching English here, specially from America and Canada and still a lack of professionals, even you do not need any experience. Moreover, they pay really well, you easily can earn around 2000 USD per month. I already was invited to teach, and as I told you, I am not a native. Well, I am an engineer, so I just refused the invitation. And yes, you also can find a lot of opportunities in the technical area. And the company will control your visa. Or you can marry a lovely taiwanese girl to become free...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 28, 2008 12:53 PM  

  • The number of non Chinese working on Taiwan who actually get the benefits you mentioned above is quite low, most probably in the single digits.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 29, 2008 10:06 AM  

  • Thanks for all the comments.

    Regarding the first comment: Welcome to Hsinchu. How do you like it here?

    Regarding the second comment: The positions available to foreigners are teaching first, and editing/writing second. The other jobs I can't generalize about. There are programmers, managers, researchers. The work visa is a hassle and probably a major obstacle if you are looking for a job that is not geared towards foreigners. I think you can be as much "part of the team" as you want, but it may depend on a number of circumstances, such as how many other foreign workers there are. I've been treated well and I think the Taiwanese workplace is friendlier than the American workplace.

    Regarding the fifth comment: Yes, most people are not so lucky. Even at high tech companies, the company may be public and the employees may not even get any yearly stock bonus.

    By Blogger Taiwanonymous, at March 30, 2008 2:04 PM  

  • Dear,

    I like Hsinchu, it is a great city for engineers... eheheh... a lot of interesting companies to work. But the traffic here is extremely chaotic and dangerous. Specially when you have to drive everyday with an 12 years-old scooter! Life is an adventure!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at April 03, 2008 4:03 PM  

  • Hello,

    I also stumbled across your blog when I was searching for jobs non-Chinese speaking people can work in. I must say, thank you for being one of the not many websites that actually talk about working as a foreigner overseas that does NOT focus on teaching English!

    I'm Australian, my background is Chinese (speak Cantonese), but I dont read or write, and I dont speak Mandarin.

    I will (finally) become a psychologist at the end of next year, and really really want to move to Taiwan to work. Do you happen to know about any opportunities in this respect?

    Even research/phd type jobs? I've been searching for years about working in an Asian country, and all I seem to find is teaching English...

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated!


    By Anonymous Michelle, at April 30, 2008 5:47 PM  

  • Hi,

    I found your blog very interesting and helpful. I was hoping if you could give me some advice.

    I am a Malaysian Chinese, Who can speak fluent English, Cantonese, Malay & Basic Mandarin(am Taking Mandarin Classes at the moment).
    I have experience in Advertising, retail, sales and marketing line.
    I am currently working for a luxury brand cosmetic company in Malaysia as Assistant Product Manager.

    I am interested to work in Taiwan but is it difficult for me to apply for a job in Taiwan?
    What are the salary range for managerial level? Is the standard of living high?

    Thank you so much for your help.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at June 02, 2008 1:16 PM  

  • I have worked for several Taiwanese companies and they are ALL completely terrible in management. Underpaid, no incentives, and most management only react to problems without working to avoid them. Two companies I recommend staying clear of are: Test Rite International and Ua Floors.

    By Anonymous TJ, at March 05, 2009 4:54 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger nicolas.frayer, at December 14, 2009 10:45 PM  

  • http://www.coomararunodaya.com/

    By Blogger Sunrise Global Solutions, at April 01, 2010 2:54 PM  

  • I am very interested in moving my family to Taiwan for a couple of years. I know the language, and would love to have this experience ... Do any of you have suggestions on where I could work to support a family and possibly still attend school, as I have yet to obtain my degree in anything?

    By Blogger Wilder, at September 15, 2010 8:02 AM  

  • A: Orseek.com is a job search engine especially designed for professional job seekers in Taiwan. It offers various job opportunities (full-time and part-time included) for job seekers worldwide. Hot job vacancies are updated by employers and head hunters every day, including high school teachers, elementary school teachers, ESL teachers for public or private schools or cram schools, editors, translator and interpreter, engineers, sales, professional managers, etc. Orseek.com is the best choice for job seekers wanting to work abroad, providing instant and continuingly updated job vacancies. Do you want to search for jobs in Taiwan? Please sign up at www.Orseek.com NOW!

    By Blogger Orseek Henry, at May 06, 2014 12:27 PM  

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