Top Tips for Working in Taiwan: Annual Holidays and Overtime

Holidays should be a time to take your mind off work and relax, so there’s nothing worse than having to think about what’s going on back at the office when you’ve checked out for the week. Here are some suggestions for how to avoid this kind of drama.

By Stuart Hill

Annual holidays

Holiday Leave Tip: Look for a Business That Actually Takes Them

If you could find a job that gives you 111 days annual leave as a minimum, wouldn’t you want to take it? Not to mention 10 days sick leave, and public holidays which get added on to that. You can: that’s what you get at the average full time “white collar” job in Taiwan. Wow, worker’s paradise, I hear you say.

But if I told you the average employer believes they are PAYING YOU FOR YOUR WEEKENDS of rest, you might see things in a slightly different light. Unfortunately, many employers have the attitude that they are compensating you for any time not spent working for them. That they also see any form of leave is an inconvenience to them, as opposed to a legal requirement, explains their begrudging approach to any kind of leave taking. “If I can do without you for a week, I can do without you forever” is a pretty typical reaction.

Not all companies or industries are the same, and increasingly younger Taiwanese employees are choosing their employers (and the industries they are in) based on the kind of leave entitlements they are able to get beyond the so-called labor law minimums.

However, 7 days of leave accumulated pro rata during the first year is very common. Expect to increase the number of days by 1 for every year of work after that. So imagine you have been at a company for 10 years, have roughly 3+ weeks of leave to take – you’re never going to give up that job regardless of how bad it is.

Taking leave can also have its problems. Not just that it is always an inconvenience to the company (boss) to be away from the job. Many companies run on a shoe-string, or simply overload their employees, so when it comes time for people to take leave, it means adding extra pressure to those still on the job, whether or not they actually have all the skills required to handle the work. This can create tensions among employees on both sides, where the pressure is there not to leave anything for anyone to do. A common outcome is the person going on leave puts in overtime before they head off on their trip, equal to all the time they plan to be away.

Tip: Find a job and company that’s annual leave policies match your hopes for your own holiday plans. If that means getting back home for 3-4 weeks each year, you’ll need to choose carefully. You’ll find the subsidiaries of foreign companies will be more likely to offer generous leave entitlements. Everyone else will tend to follow the “standard labor law”. That said, larger Taiwanese enterprises do tend to be more accommodating and able to cover for you when you are away. Get to understand how many people are onboard who do the kind of work you will be doing, and what’s the general policy for covering work while people are on leave.

Overtime Tip: 9 to 6 is Typically the Norm; Decide if 8 to Anytime is What You’ve Really Signed Up For

In Taiwan there is no practical concept of work-life balance: your job is your life. And your company is your family. And as mentioned above, your time spent off the job is time costing your employer. This is the case for many small to medium businesses, where the owners are still the bosses living their dreams, and is perhaps not unique to Taiwan.

Many employers take the opinion that your job is your responsibility alone, and specific tasks that need to get done MUST BE DONE regardless of any extenuating circumstances like ill health, natural disasters, public holidays, new projects that emerge, or even your own annual leave plans.

Many employees are also judged on their dedication to their job – and loyalty to their boss – by the amount of time they are willing to sacrifice for the company. This translates directly into the time you give up for yourself and family – and does often reflect the favorable attitude the boss takes to you working for him/her. Whether that then translates into specific annual bonuses (and how much) or other kinds of benefits is something you probably won’t know until AFTER your first year or so of sacrifice. The onus is on you to prove your value – ie loyalty – and not the other way around.

It is possible to find a reasonable work-like balance – and many companies that are not paying commissions or bonuses tend to offer that more – but expect your overall salary package to remain fairly static, in line with your consistent working hours each day.

Overtime Tip: Ask around and do everything you can to understand the overtime culture at your future employer. Is it paid or unpaid, infrequent or very often. While you may not get an entirely straight answer, it is a key question to ask during any interview: when does everyone start and finish work? Do people get called in on weekends or public holidays? Also, find out which part of the world the company’s main customers operate in. These will give you an idea about when you are expected to be available, and whether that is the kind of working style you are comfortable with or not.

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