EDITORIAL: Change to corporate mindset needed

Fri, Aug 24, 2018 - Page 8

The Legislative Yuan in December 2016 passed an amendment to the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法) that increased the number of annual paid leave days: The aim was to help workers achieve a better work-life balance, but a recent poll suggests that such a goal cannot be reached without reforming the nation’s corporate culture.

Ministry of Labor statistics show that Taiwanese last year worked an average of 169.6 hours per month, or a total of 2,035.2 hours a year.

That number would have put Taiwan in third place on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) ranking of average hours worked last year, surpassing South Korea’s (third place) 2,024 hours and Japan’s 1,710 hours.

An 1111 Job Bank poll released on Wednesday found that nearly 50 percent of respondents had been given a difficult time by their superiors when they applied for leave.

Asked about their superiors’ reasoning, 54 percent said it was due to their department being understaffed, 45 percent attributed it to their superiors’ personal likes and dislikes, and 28 percent believed it was because their absence would add to their colleagues’ burden.

It is worth noting that 19 percent of respondents thought they were given a hard time because their superiors equated taking leave with being a slacker.

Equally troubling is that even those who were given permission for leave, almost 81 percent said they still received text messages or telephone calls from their companies about work-related matters on their days off, and 92 percent said they had to deal with work matters while on vacation.

In addition, of those who said they were called or texted while on leave, 44 percent said they always carried their cellphones with them for fear of missing an important call, the survey found.

The poll results underscored a long-standing phenomenon: Taiwanese companies seem to have a distorted idea about vacation and leave time.

Most appear to consider days-off as some sort of privilege rather than a legal right of their employees. The notion that taking a vacation can be an effective way to relieve stress and recharge the mind also appears to be a foreign concept.

This mindset creates an unhealthy working environment, where employees often not only experience emotional distress when asking for leave, but also face pressure from coworkers who either knowingly or unknowingly make colleagues who wish to use their annual leave feel guilty.

The result is that workers either end up with unused leave days at the end of the year, or if they are willing to brave the corporate onus against time off, feel “obligated” to handle work matters while on vacation to relieve the pressure from their superiors or colleagues.

Digging deeper, the cause of this problem stems from Taiwanese society’s unhealthy glorification of sacrifice, especially in regards to work, which makes those who want to maintain a work-life balance appear like irresponsible slackers.

This hostile corporate culture needs to change before Taiwanese can enjoy, without fear or pressure, their legally protected right to paid annual leave.

Without such reform, any government effort to relieve the problem will only scratch the surface.