Are You Offering the Right Perks?

Headhunter Alan McIvor shares his experience and advice on salaries, annual leave policies, and other benefits offered in Taiwan – from best practices to the very worst – and what they reveal about the employer.

Like any good modern professional, I often ask myself, “how am I useful?” Headhunters charge our clients large amounts of money to help them recruit talent. It’s not unusual for startup founders, often new to our type of service, to absolutely balk at the cost of using us as a partner.

I’ve been doing this type of work for long enough to have had time for some introspection; what type of value do I actually bring? Do I have access to any information that my clients will find useful? What data do I have that most other professionals don’t?

Headhunter Alan McIvor has gathered experience with the Taiwan job market for over a decade.

I’ll stop beating around the bush – below is the information I have access to that you, dear reader, don’t. Because of the nature of salaries, annual leave, bonus calculations, commission structure, allowances, and other job perks, these topics are rarely discussed openly, and the data is never public. For example, you can’t go onto Nestlé’s website and find out how many days of annual leave the company offers in the first year or how many months its average variable bonus is. This is especially true of salary. In many companies it is forbidden to share the details of your salary with colleagues – sometimes, it is even a fireable offense.

The added perks offered to employees say a lot about a company’s culture – they are an indicator of what to expect from your new employer. Taiwan is no different from other markets in this regard; red flags abound when offer letters delve into details.

Unfortunately, companies often don’t realize that their own perks are sub-standard by comparison (because of the aforementioned smoke and mirrors surrounding this topic). But hiring is massively influenced by company policy on these things, and I think that we should collectively push companies toward the more generous end of the spectrum.

Financial benefits

It is easy to say, “the more you pay, the better.” So, I’m just going to say it: the more you pay, the better. Candidates and potential employees might not come across as particularly mercenary, but I can tell you for a fact that they are. Money is without a doubt the most important factor for people who are changing jobs.

Salary can be broken down into base and bonus. The base salary is obviously the most important – it makes sense that candidates want a guaranteed set of money as opposed to ethereal promises about performance-related bonuses. A variable bonus is literally variable. Companies that approach the February New Year’s break after a year of poor revenue and as a result don’t pay out the expected bonuses will often have to endure a mass exodus. Here is a direct quote from an email I sent to lambast a South Korean client of mine:

“Offering 12 months’ salary plus ‘maybe’ a small bonus is really not smart. You are making life super difficult for yourselves for no reason.” It’s a bit harsh but certainly fair advice for any company that wishes to be competitive in the Taiwan market.

My recommendation for the ideal Taiwan package would be to offer 13 months guaranteed salary with between one and three months’ extra variable bonus based on personal key performance indicators (KPIs). Basing variable bonuses on company performance is a dangerous game as it removes incentive from strong performers who are cash motivated. The software industry often pays a 50/50 base/bonus split, but they can get away with it because the total salaries are extremely high compared to the market average.

Taiwanese local companies often pay six to eight months’ extra variable bonuses. However, they offer low and therefore unsatisfactory monthly salaries. This makes them less attractive to the best talent in the market, who would often prefer to work for foreign multinationals. The average raise in Taiwan for people changing jobs is a 10-20% increase on their previous package. Companies offering more are rare, and companies offering less are going to find their offers frequently rejected, thus wasting everyone’s time.

Other financial benefits accessible to candidates in Taiwan would include allowances and red envelopes for some specific holidays, although the amounts companies put in those envelopes are negligible (a few thousand NT dollars, perhaps). But allowances are different – this is an area that can vary wildly from company to company. Allowances are commonly given for things like food, transport, housing, car rental, parking, and cellphones. The most interesting (often startup) companies will offer employees allowances for “self-improvement” – things like gym memberships, online courses, and sports equipment.

Unsurprisingly, generosity differs between companies in this regard as well. The typical employer in Taiwan will give NT$2,000-5,000 in allowances per month, usually for food and transport (to be reimbursed at the presentation of receipts). Senior sales professionals’ average car allowance is around NT$5,000 a month.

Housing allowances range from anywhere between NT$80,000 and NT$220,000 per month, although this is unfortunately often only a benefit for foreign nationals who are sent to work here under an “expat contract.” I have never seen a local hire contract offer a housing allowance. In my opinion, allowances are a fairly affordable way for companies to show that they care about their employees here in Taiwan. Weird and fun allowances also make you stand out in what is a fairly conservative hiring market.

Time off and make-up days

I recently had a conversation with a C-level contact of mine about his company’s annual leave policy. He argued that his company follows government regulations as if that were not only the norm here, but also a highly reasonable thing to do. I argued back that all companies that follow the government’s annual leave policy are at the very lowest end of the attractiveness scale and should be named and shamed. I performed a LinkedIn survey to support my point, and it showed some interesting results.

Based on my experience, I’d say the average company offers around 8-12 days of annual leave in the first year, while the best companies in the market offer about 22. I have no idea how companies that offer three days of annual leave in a calendar year expect to hire any talent, let alone strong talent. I would encourage anyone who is offered such few days of vacation to respond to the hiring manager with some kind of strong rebuke.

You won’t be surprised to hear that the big and old Taiwanese companies offer the lowest amount of paid leave per year. Many startups in Taiwan are on the other end of the spectrum, allowing unlimited annual leave, a perk that is often used sparingly by committed yet happy employees. It turns out that treating staff like responsible adults pays dividends in the long run.

By now, I feel confident that we are ready to discuss one of my least favorite aspects of working in Taiwan: make-up days. As an example, let’s say May 1, or Labor Day, falls on a Thursday. In Taiwan, we get to enjoy a long weekend holiday from Thursday through Saturday, frolicking in the park with our friends and family. It would be perfect if not for the fact that just around the corner awaits a (in my opinion) quite stupid Saturday in the office to “make up” for the Friday holiday. This must be one of the most illogical and infuriating things I have experienced here.

If you have to “make up” for a holiday by working on the weekend, it wasn’t actually a holiday, was it? The best companies (I’d guess more than half of all companies in the market) don’t make you do this – they will give their employees these extra four to seven days off every year.

Other benefits

I think I’ve addressed the most obvious factors at play in Taiwan’s  hiring market. In truth, most people predominantly care about money and annual leave. That being said, there are a couple of other noteworthy perks that I have witnessed being offered in Taiwan. Things like flexiwork (being able to start and finish work earlier or later in the day), remote work (which has gained massive popularity, of course, thanks to COVID-19), and office aesthetics could be mentioned.

American tech startups are famous for having ping-pong tables, cushioned resting areas, hot desks, and game consoles in the office, and it would be true to say these do entice candidates. Additionally, good companies often pay for lavish meals in fancy restaurants, which I’ve personally always enjoyed.

However, the same companies will often also organize two-day trips to Hualien, which I find to be less of an incentive and more of a punishment (to each their own, I suppose). Cool companies also tend to give you a new laptop, cellphone, and branded items such as bags, pens, and other knickknacks. These could all be listed as notable perks, although any company that asks you to bring your own laptop would have to be placed in the “bad” category.

That leaves us with sick leave and parental leave. All companies in Taiwan are required to allow one day of “menstrual leave” per month (although maximum three times per year) to their female employees. The worst companies will make you call the General Manager (no texting allowed) and inform them of the specificities of your malady when you call in sick. After the call, a trip to the doctor to get the prerequisite “sick note” is required. It should go without saying that the more you treat your employees as responsible adults when it comes to sick leave, the more they will act as such.

One of my main takeaways from a “women in business” event I attended last year was that the culture surrounding maternity leave needs to be improved. There should be a supportive and vocal HR encouraging mothers to take their full leave, or at least removing the fear that women’s careers will stagnate if they have a child. Likewise, paternity leave should be extended well beyond the seven days allocated by the government if we as men are to support women and change the culture and system here.

There are too many nuances surrounding salaries to go into specific numerical details for various functions, industries, and seniority levels. But if you are interested in comparing your package to the average market level, you can find salary guides published by my rival headhunting companies. If you are a hiring manager or HR professional reading this, I sincerely hope you take the time to learn from best practices and make your company competitive in the hiring market. If you are an employee with three days of vacation in a year, I suggest you leave this article on your manager’s desk. Or better yet, find an employer willing to allow you to rest and recharge. Good luck!