Taiwan struggling with talent retention amid poor work-life balance, say HR professionals

Author: Jens Kastner | Date: 14 Dec 2016

Locals work 363 hours more each year than average for OECD member states

HR managers in Taiwan are being forced to review working hours and holiday strategy as young professionals seek greater work-life balance than their older colleagues.
 
Employees in Taiwan work for an average of 2,134 hours a year, compared to the average for OECD member states of 1,771 hours. It is highly educated young professionals who are least happy with the situation, which poses a challenge to the island’s HR departments.
 
“The people who have power in organisations belong to the old generation, and there is this conflict between them and my younger generation,” said Huang Hui-Ying, a Taiwanese HR manager currently pursuing an MBA at HEC Paris, the business school.
 
“Many of us agree that we should fight more for our rights, including for the leave we should have,” she added.
 
Huang added that she will be looking for a job in Europe, not Taiwan, after studying at HEC, partly because Taiwanese companies tend not to differentiate between MBAs and other master degrees in their packages. The poor work-life balance in her home country serves as an additional reason.
 
Under Taiwan’s Labour Standards Act, employees are only guaranteed seven days’ annual leave in their second year of employment, meaning that recruits joining a new company will not get any time off in their first year of work. As a result, some young professionals quit jobs to embark on working holidays in Europe, North America or Australia or avoid looking for a professional job right after graduation, travelling instead.
 
HR departments are now trying to understand the motivation of young Taiwanese employees, and there are signs that the conventional rigidity of time off is increasingly applying to traditional and locally-run businesses only.
 
“Most multinational organisations and also some local Taiwanese companies give new starters at least 10 days’ annual leave,” said Linda Chen, a manager at recruitment firm Michael Page Taiwan.
 
Taiwan’s Chinese Human Resource Management Association (CHRMA) noted that HR departments on the island seeking to retain young talent have been offering unpaid leave for those wishing to travel abroad for periods longer than one month.
 
Weber Chung, CHRMA chairman, argues that for vacations under one month long, the existing scheme suffices if it is flexibly handled.
 
“One month can be covered if the seven regular days off are combined with the 14 days that can be granted for special leave, such as birthday leave, wedding anniversary leave and leave for voluntary work,” said Chung.
 
Still, Huang noted that even if her highly trained peers could get a job “considered very nice” in Taiwan, they would prefer working in the West. She recalled her last job in Taiwan, at a multinational global professional services firm, where business meetings tended to take place late in the evening, damaging productivity.
 
“Even though we work for a foreign employer in Taiwan, the management style is still localised, playing a role in high turnover rates,” Huang said.