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Family friendly initiatives to address the talent shortage

The ECCT's Family Friendly Alliance hosted a lunch on the topic: "Talent shortages in enterprises - How to support employees achieve a balance between family and work". The event featured presentations by Bright Lee, Chief Editor of Research for Global Views Monthly (遠見雜誌 李建興 智庫總編輯); Tsai Yulin, Founder of the Seek and Find Social Enterprise Taiwan (得人資源整合有限公司 蔡淯鈴 創辦人) and Howard Shiu, Partner at Baker McKenzie and Co-chair of the ECCT's HR Committee (國際通商法律事務所 許修豪 合夥人暨歐洲商會人力資源委員會 共同主席).

According to Taiwan's Ministry of Interior statistics, the number of births on the island in 2023 decreased by 2.5% from 2022 to 135,571, setting a new low for the eighth consecutive year. Taiwan's peak demographic dividend, when the number of people of working age is the highest, has already passed and is getting progressively worse. The situation is exacerbated by the tendency of women who wish to give birth quitting their jobs to take care of children as well as working women in their 50s retiring early to help take care of their grandchildren. The departure of both young and mature talent from the workforce not only deprives enterprises of talent but also increases the costs and workload related to recruitment and training. All of these factors combined are making it increasingly difficult for enterprises to find enough employees.

In his presentation, Bright Lee gave a summary of results of the magazine's recent survey and research on the impact of Taiwan’s demographic trends on the workforce and companies, the impact of the trends on corporate competitiveness and how companies should respond. He noted that Taiwan has a disproportionately low workforce participation rate among women. Many women who choose to have children drop out of the workforce permanently while others retire in their fifties to take care of aged parents or grandchildren. The labour force participation rate of women aged 60-64 in Taiwan is only 26.5% compared to countries like Sweden where most women, like men, tend to work into their sixties.

The speaker noted that recruitment, training, and handover costs are high. The cost of replacing employees who resign is equivalent to about one third of the employee's annual salary, which should prompt employers to make more of an effort to retain them.

Based on surveys conducted by Global Views, the majority of young women in Taiwan don't want to have children. While they are not likely to be persuaded otherwise by government incentives, they tend to regard supportive company policies more favourably. Policies such as flexible working hours and options to work remotely are regarded as more useful than financial incentives to have and raise children. Lee stressed the point that it is important for managers and colleagues of parents to be supportive of parents. For example, when kids get sick, it is important for colleagues in the same team to be willing to fill in for these parents to allow them to take care of their children. In addition to flexible and remote working options, companies could redesign workflows to be more supportive of young parents. Having childcare facilities on site also relieves a lot of stress on parents.

Lee went on to cite several family friendly best practices adopted by companies in Taiwan. One bank in Taiwan, for example, keeps in regular touch with female employees on maternity leave with a view towards persuading them to return to work when their children reach school-going age. Another company actively encourages workplace romances because employees who marry tend to stay with the company and to form bonds with other parents, who share duties such as picking up and taking care of one another’s children.

In her presentation, Tsai Yu-lin spoke about why Taiwan faces more pronounced work-family conflicts than Europe and America and what measures companies should take to support pregnant employees and young parents. She cited an article from the Economist about the rise in loneliness as a public health problem, which is also backed up by other research that shows that new parents are prone to loneliness. According to Tsai, a high proportion of young mothers in Taiwan suffer from postpartum depression while young fathers are also prone to depression. 

The root causes of work-life conflicts can be traced to tensions between traditional and modern concepts of families and gender roles. The traditional concept, where family takes precedence over individual concerns and women are expected to assume most of the child-rearing and homemaking functions, is in conflict with the individual desires and aspirations, especially of young women. Along with this, traditional social support networks are collapsing and parents face high economic stress. In this environment, young parents need support and role models to help them navigate the challenges of balancing work and their private lives. Given the fact that the age at which women tend to give birth is rising, grandparents, that otherwise might have taken on a childcaring support role, may themselves need care and may not be as able to help raise children. Without this traditional support network, companies will need to take on more responsibility to support young parents.

Based on interviews of 2,000 people cited by Tsai, any and all family friendly support measures implemented by companies, regardless of how small, make young parents feel supported and happier. In-house childcare facilities are also good for the mental health of children because kids make friends with one another.

In his presentation, Howard Shiu shared fundamental legal structures and policies and outlined what companies can do under these legal frameworks. He stressed that addressing the demographic problem in Taiwan first requires the right mindset about work-life balance and supporting employees to achieve it. Every company should review its DEIA policies and identify obstacles facing young parents and work to remove them. Instead of waiting for the government, companies should be taking proactive action by introducing family friendly measures for their employees.

Shiu went on to cite some of the ECCT HR committee's position paper recommendations to the government, which include relaxing working hours and remote working requirements, relaxing requirements to hire foreign domestic helpers, encouraging part time work options for young parents and providing incentives to companies to set up in-house childcare facilities. 

Following their presentations, the speakers answered a few questions from the audience.