Living in Taiwan has been an eye-opening experience, to say the least. Instead of regaling you with stories about monkeys invading Taiwanese dormitories for food and other exotic tales, however, I’m here to talk about something else entirely.
I’d like to elaborate on the various business lessons I’ve learned while working and interacting with locals since moving here permanently in 2014.
To get you into the right mindset, here’s an incredibly abbreviated breakdown of Taiwan — or Republic of China — depending on your preferred moniker.
Geography & political identity of Taiwan
Taiwan is not Thailand (apologies if you’re aware of this — my own family members still confuse the two on occasion).
Taiwan is a small but densely populated East Asian island nation that has a complicated relationship with China, and a strangely positive one with Japan (considering Japan colonized Taiwan for 40 years of the 20th century).
Language-wise, most people living in Taiwan speak Mandarin Chinese and celebrate holidays in accordance to the Chinese lunar calendar. Culturally, Taiwanese citizens share many of the same ideals of citizens from China, Japan and even western countries like the United States.
4 business lessons I’ve learned since living in Taiwan
Yet there are some things I’ve noticed while living and working in Taiwan that are clearly different from the way we do things in America. My immersive experience has taught me some valuable lessons — ones that could possibly be applied back home.
- We should sleep whenever and wherever necessary.
- The group is greater than the individual.
- Cultivating hype is an (important) art.
- Overtime must be used carefully.
Read on as I highlight these four lessons.
1. We should sleep whenever and wherever necessary
My first time visiting a Taiwanese office was on a balmy October afternoon in 2014. Upon entering, there was something I noticed immediately that didn’t make much sense at the time: the lights were all out.
While “sleep rooms” and other snooze-friendly facilities have started to pop up across the U.S. recently, I had never experienced or even heard of an entire floor of office workers catching some communal Z’s.
Office naptime is just something that hasn’t seemed to catch on in America. But maybe it should.
It’s something that many of us probably don’t realize, but sleepy employees cost American companies billions in lost revenue annually. If you think about it, it’s quite surprising the afternoon snooze session hasn’t become a ubiquitous part of U.S. office life. After all, sleep is an integral part of a productive workplace.
After living in Taiwan for several years, it’s become apparent that daytime sleeping behavior is commonplace across the island. Even sleeping in public spaces is quite ordinary here.
Napping in the afternoon is simply an accepted part of office life for many Taiwanese workers. Most were surprised when I mentioned it’s not the case for the vast majority of Americans.
2. The group is greater than the individual
While this might be a common concept for athletic teams across America, when it comes to everyday life, the United States is a largely an individual-centric society. I’m not criticizing — I’m guilty of this as well. This attitude often pours over into our work life. We’ve come to expect praise from our peers and raises from our bosses.
Plus, we’re generally willing to be vocal about such things.
Living in Taiwan on the other hand, people navigate such topics carefully. They prefer to prove that they deserve respect and better salaries by working incredibly hard.
The notion that teams and groups can achieve more is instilled at a young age in Taiwan. You can see this uniformity every day walking down the street — there are people in uniforms everywhere. From elementary school students to office workers, dress codes are an unavoidable part of life for the residents of Taiwan.
While I personally don’t see uniforms as the best way to bring a team together, they do stand for something — cohesion.
Building a cohesive team, where members view each other as fellow contributors rather than rivals that must be outperformed, is critical to accomplishing great things.
This mindset is prevalent in Taiwan, and is one that helps create a healthier working space.
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3. Cultivating hype is an (important) art
Regularly walking around Taipei’s bustling East District each weekend makes one thing exceedingly clear: businesses come and go quickly here. Whether it’s a fashionable clothing store, a specialty coffee shop, or an interesting food stand, if they aren’t making a fast impression with customers then they’ll be gone before the time I pass by the following week.
There’s one thing that seems to run consistent with most of the businesses that pop up and stay successful in this part of the city: they know how to build hype.
One way they excel at doing this is by calling on the power of their network.
Whether it’s social media engagement, blog posts on well-read food blogs (Pixnet.net being one of their more famous blogging spaces), or getting people to queue up in front of their store — the most successful businesses here are masters of hyping their product.
This is especially true of restaurants and drink stands, because they are everywhere.
And where most Americans would scoff at a big queue for something as mundane as a cup of fruit tea, such queues actually attract customers in Taiwan. If any portion of your target customers come from East Asia, this is something to keep in mind.
4. Overtime must be used carefully
While there’s a lot of sharp business acumen being flexed here on a regular basis, not all of the business-related lessons I’ve learned while living in Taiwan have been positive. One major example is how over time, even if compensated well, can lead to some serious issues with employee turnover.
And unfortunately, there’s a lot of overtime in Taiwan — one report finding that Taiwanese people work an average of 2,104 hours each year (fourth highest in the world).
The bonus scheme for most companies, which is deeply rooted in this overtime culture, is also problematic. Year-end bonuses are expected to be several months to even a year’s worth of income. This means that there is a turnover tidal wave following the Lunar New Year once that paycheck has passed.
Incentivizing employees with more free time and less reliance on overtime as a means of generating an acceptable income would go a long way toward improving the turnover issues present here.
Related: 9 ways to motivate employees
Final thoughts on living in Taiwan
My time living in Taiwan has been an enlightening one. I’m very grateful for the opportunities that have popped up as a result of being in its capital.
We can always learn a thing or two from our international friends, especially when it comes to how they live their lives and perceive the world. (Oh, and we should probably all sleep more, too.)