OPINION: Small Benefits Are Holding Taiwan's Workers Back

OPINION: Small Benefits Are Holding Taiwan's Workers Back
Photo credit: Reuters 達志影像
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Is the 'happy company' phenomenon a mask for deeper workplace dissatisfaction?

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Taiwanese workplaces are notorious for their low wages and long hours, but employees are often satiated with small gestures aimed at creating a “happy company.”

The occasional cup of bubble tea or chocolate may provide a needed dopamine boost between spreadsheet sessions, but it also makes people more likely to accept poor working conditions. In this sense, employees themselves are equally complicit in depressing wages in Taiwan.

The "2018 Greater China Salary Guide" from HR firm Adecco has some startling statistics regarding Taiwan’s workplaces. Taiwanese office workers didn’t rank well in terms of pay or wage growth, but said they were most satisfied with the “benefits” provided by their company.

One friend who had worked in Taiwan, China, the U.S. and Southeast Asia said that she paid little heed to these benefits, focusing mostly on pay — she said that more money meant that she had more freedom to provide for herself. She may not be in the mainstream, however. There are plenty of people who care more about the small benefits than the bigger problems of their professional lives.

Taiwanese workers have a special characteristic — they always try to convince themselves that they are happy. I have seen many company bosses tout how spectacular their employees’ customer service is, but I also see colleagues work through the night only to get up early, smiling brightly to customers day after day.

Bosses look after their own welfare, and many employees are left to find their own source of satisfaction. They make sacrifices in exchange for promotions and pay raises, but their efforts are often in vain. Instead, they find themselves receiving small benefits like red bean soup in the winter, as if they work for a “happy company.”

The hashtag “Happy company” (#幸福企業) always gets countless likes on Taiwanese social media, but the true happiness goes to business owners.

Some people say that young people in Taiwan advocate for secondary benefits because they don’t believe that they can ever make a huge sum of money. However, people forget their own value and the wages they deserve, lost to the lure of the occasional douhua or biscuit. The Chinese novelist Lu Xun once wrote, “Although it is sad to be a slave, it is not terrible, because he knows he is struggling and can hope to break free. If he finds beauty in his life as a slave, then he becomes irredeemable.”

Workers blame have many excuses for their situation: the Taiwanese market is too small, industry profit margins are too slim, bosses are too stingy, but no one should neglect the traps into which they ourselves have fallen; too many people think that they are worth their paltry salaries and somehow deserve to be treated poorly.

In Adecco’s report, only 40 percent of Taiwanese employees left their companies for better job opportunities. But what can you call a better job opportunity? Is it a higher salary, more days off or a cup of tea in the afternoon? These statistics don’t really show.

The talent that remains in Taiwan go out and cheerfully tell themselves that they are happy; pathologically subservient to their employers, they are the key factors in their own low pay.

Read next: Social Workers to Feel the Brunt of Labor Act Amendments

An unabridged Chinese-language version of this article can be found here.

Editor: Morley J Weston