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.
Labels: Taiwan, work