Taiwanese and American work cultures differ in several ways, from the time orientation to communication styles to the importance placed on hierarchy. Understanding these differences is crucial for anyone hoping to work effectively in either culture.
台灣和美國的工作文化在幾個方面存在差異，例如溝通方式，等級制度, 加班, 等等。 了解這些差異對於任何希望在這兩種文化中有效工作的人來說都是至關重要的。
In this blog, we will explore general differences between work cultures in the USA and in Taiwan, and I will share some personal experiences and insights I have as an American after working ten years in Taiwan. Please note that this is just a general list, and my experiences do not reflect the working experiences of every foreigner in Taiwan, and not every American company or Taiwanese company conforms to the descriptions below.
1. Communication Styles 溝通方式:
Taiwanese communication style is more indirect, formal, and hierarchical, while American communication style is more direct and informal.
In Taiwan, it is customary to show respect to authority figures and senior colleagues by using formal titles and deferential language. Direct confrontation is also avoided, and criticism is often delivered in an indirect manner. In contrast, Americans tend to be more direct in their communication style, often speaking their mind freely and openly expressing their opinions. Hierarchy is another area where Taiwanese and American work cultures diverge. In Taiwan, hierarchy is deeply ingrained in the culture, with respect and deference paid to those in positions of authority.
在台灣，通常員工用正式的頭銜和恭敬的語言來表達對有權力的人物和資深同事的尊重, 也避免直接反對的話，批評同事通常以間接方式進行。 相比之下，美國人的溝通方式往往更直接，經常暢所欲言，公開表達自己的意見。
As an American, I have learned this the hard way. You will not last long in a traditional Taiwanese company if you are always speaking your mind freely and talking back to superiors; in Taiwan, this can be seen as insubordination and having a bad work attitude. It is better to try to address problems indirectly, such as through another coworker or superior, and avoid direct confrontation if at all possible. The only exception to this is bosses or supervisors who can be very curt and direct to their subordinates, but their subordinates are not allowed to talk directly back.
Alternatively, Taiwanese working in America can be criticized for not speaking up or contributing their thoughts to the team.
作為一個美國人，我從慘痛的教訓中學到了這一點。 如果你總是暢所欲言，頂嘴上司，你在傳統的台企會待不久； 在台灣，這可以被視為不服和惡劣的態度。 最好嘗試間接解決問題，例如通過另一位同事或上司，並儘可能避免直接反對別人。唯一的例外是老闆或主管，他們可以對下屬非常直截了當，但不允許下屬直接頂嘴。 相反的, 在美國工作的台灣人可能會因為不說話或不為團隊貢獻自己的想法而受到批評。
2. Management Styles 管理方式:
In terms of power distance, Taiwan has a high power distance work culture, while America has a low power distance work culture.
This means that in Taiwan, decision-making is centralized, there is a strong command structure and set hierarchy, formal communication is required, and employees have little say regarding the management of the company.
This is reflected in workplace structures, where managers are often seen as authoritative figures who are not to be questioned. In the United States, however, the culture is more informal, with less emphasis on hierarchy and more on teamwork and collaboration. There are also differences in the way that tasks are approached in each culture. In Taiwan, there is a tendency to be meticulous and precise, with a focus on getting every detail right. This reflects the culture's values of hard work and attention to detail. In contrast, Americans tend to be more results-oriented, with a focus on achieving objectives quickly and efficiently.
這反映在工作場所結構中，管理者通常被視為不容質疑的權威人物。 然而，在美國，文化更為非正式，不太強調等級制度，而更強調團隊合作和協作。 每種文化處理任務的方式也不同。 在台灣，有一絲不苟和精確的傾向，注重把每一個細節都做好。 這反映了努力工作和注重細節的文化價值觀。 相比之下，美國人往往更注重結果，注重快速有效地實現目標。
Part of the reason that employees in Taiwan are so submissive to their leaders has a lot to do with Chinese culture, where respect for elders is paramount. In addition, Taiwanese schools and the education system, in general, teaches children to listen to what the teacher has to say and not ask questions; asking questions or sharing one's own opinion can be a sign of contempt for the teacher or a lack of understanding.
Contrastingly, in America there is more decentralization of power, status, and formality are not as important, employees are encouraged to share their thoughts and opinions freely, and it is easy to approach and communicate openly with company leaders.
This can also be linked to America's school system. America's school system in contrast teaches students freedom of expression, thinking outside of the box, and asking thought-provoking questions. Respect for authority is not emphasized, but rather it is expected that teachers earn the respect of their students.
台灣員工對領導如此順從的部分原因與中國文化有很大關係，在中國文化中，尊重長者至為重要。 此外，台灣的學校和教育系統，一般都教導孩子聽老師說什麼，不問問題； 問問題或分享自己的意見可能是對老師的蔑視或缺乏理解的表現。
這也可以與美國的學校系統聯繫起來。 相比之下，美國的學校系統教導學生自由表達、跳出框框思考並提出發人深省的問題。 沒有強調對權威的尊重，而是期望教師贏得學生的尊重。
It doesn't help that most businesses in Taiwan are family-run and owned, and management stays rigidly in the family. This means that many times in Taiwan management is passed on to younger family members even if there are more skilled and experienced employees that can manage the company.
3. Professionalism and Formality 專業正式:
Taiwanese culture places a high value on professionalism, with a focus on etiquette, manners, and proper conduct, while American culture is more casual and informal.
In Taiwan, looks are very important. It is important to management and coworkers to always look and act professionally, even if you are not completing work effectively or in a timely manner.
As an American working in Taiwan, I also had to learn this lesson the hard way. I have learned that the attitude I portray and paying attention to minor details is actually more important than the work results I put out in the eyes of my superiors.
4. Details vs. Goals 細節與大目標:
Taiwanese workers tend to be meticulous and precise, with a focus on getting every detail right, while American workers tend to be more results-oriented.
This also means that Taiwanese people focus more on details and correct form, instead of the overall objective. Contrastingly, American work culture places more emphasis on substance and results, and employees are more casual in the workplace.
5. Time Orientation 時間觀念:
Taiwanese culture values long-term planning and prioritizes future outcomes, while American culture tends to prioritize present-oriented goals.
The overall mindset for Taiwanese workers is often to work in the same company for life, while American workers might be interested in a certain position for a shorter time and switch to another opportunity or career path once a project or goal is finished.
6. Teamwork 團隊合作:
Taiwanese culture emphasizes teamwork and harmony, while American culture emphasizes individual achievement and competition.
In the USA, individualism is a core value that influences the way people approach work and life. Individualism emphasizes personal freedom, autonomy, and self-reliance. People are encouraged to take responsibility for their own lives and to pursue their own goals and dreams. This individualistic approach to life is also reflected in the workplace. American businesses tend to focus on individual achievement and performance, and employees are often evaluated based on their individual contributions to the organization.
在美國，個人主義是影響人們對待工作和生活方式的核心價值觀。 個人主義強調個人的自由、自主和自力更生。 鼓勵人們對自己的生活負責，追求自己的目標和夢想。 這種個人主義的生活方式也反映在工作場所。 美國企業傾向於關注個人成就和表現，員工通常根據他們對組織的個人貢獻進行評估。
Teamwork is highly valued in Taiwan. Taiwan is a collectivist culture where people prioritize the needs of the group over their individual desires. This collectivist approach to life is reflected in the workplace, where teamwork is emphasized and collaboration is encouraged. In Taiwanese companies, employees are often evaluated based on their ability to work well with others and contribute to the team’s success.
One of the reasons for this difference in values is the role that Confucianism has played in Taiwanese culture. Confucianism emphasizes the importance of family, community, and social order, and this has influenced the way Taiwanese people approach work and relationships. In the US, on the other hand, the Protestant work ethic has played a significant role in shaping the culture. This work ethic emphasizes individual responsibility and hard work as a means to achieve success.
在台灣，團隊合作非常受重視。 台灣是一種集體主義文化，人們將群體的需求置於個人需求之上。 這種集體主義的生活方式反映在工作場所，強調團隊合作並鼓勵協作。 在台灣公司中，通常根據員工與他人合作的能力以及對團隊成功的貢獻來評估員工。
造成這種價值觀差異的原因之一是儒家思想在台灣文化中所扮演的角色。 儒家思想強調家庭、社區和社會秩序的重要性，這影響了台灣人對待工作和人際關係的方式。 另一方面，在美國，基督教徒的職業道德在塑造文化方面發揮了重要作用。 這種職業道德強調個人責任和努力工作是取得成功的一種方式。
7. Overtime 加班:
In Taiwan, it is common to work overtime without additional pay, while American labor laws typically require that employees be paid overtime for work beyond a certain number of hours.
Before coming to Taiwan, I had the expectation that I would be paid for any overtime I worked. However, I quickly learned that I was expected to work overtime for free every day, if only for a few minutes. Clocking out at exactly 5:30 was considered as having a bad attitude and showing a lack of effort.
來台灣之前，我一直期望自己加班能得到加班費。 但是，我很快了解到，即使只是幾分鐘，我也應該每天免費加班。 恰好在 5:30 下班被認為是態度不好並且缺乏努力。
In addition, I also soon found that it was my boss's expectation of me wanting me to check and reply to emails at night, on weekends, and on holidays and business trips. For instance, he would send me emails during the vacation to tell me to complete a task during the vacation.
Americans understand that long hours do not mean more effective work, but in the eyes of Taiwanese bosses, longer hours means more dedication and a more professional attitude.
此外，我也很快發現，讓我在晚上、週末、節假日和出差時必須查看和回复郵件，這是老闆對我的期望。 比如放假的時候，他會給我發郵件，讓我在放假的時候完成一個任務。 美國人明白，延長工時並不意味著更有效的工作，但在台灣老闆眼中，延長工時意味著更敬業和更專業的態度。
Taiwan has some of the highest working hours in the world, ranking in the top 3, behind Mexico and Singapore and it’s getting worse. However, Singapore has an advanced economy and workers are getting compensation 90,000 NT per month for new employees. Starting salaries in Shanghai and Shenzhen have also risen above Taiwan’s.
Most Taiwanese workers cannot join unions and voice their rights as workers. In Taiwan, a company needs 30 or more employees before it can make a workers union, which is only 3% of the total companies in Taiwan. For most other Asian countries, this number is less than 7. If more Taiwanese people were able to form their own unions, perhaps we wouldn’t have such backward labor laws.
台灣擁有世界上第三高的工作時間，在墨西哥和新加坡的後面，情況正在惡化。 然而，新加坡經濟發達，新員工每月可獲得9萬新台幣的補償。 在上海深圳起薪也上升了台灣。大多數台灣工人不能加入工會，並以工人的身份表達自己的權利。 在台灣，一家公司需要30多名員工才能組建工會，這只佔台灣公司總數的3％。 對於大多數其他亞洲國家來說，這個數字還不到7位就可以組織工會。如果更多的台灣人能夠組建自己的工會，也許我們不會有這樣落後的勞動法。
8. Holidays and Vacations 國定假日及休假:
The number of public holidays in Taiwan is around 12 per year, while the number of public holidays in the US is about 10 (and can vary according to state).
However in the US, sick leave can be taken at will and is paid in full. In Taiwan, sick leave can only be taken when you can get a doctor's notice, which can be annoying especially when you are sick and do not want to leave the door.
台灣每年的國定假日數量約為 12 天，而美國的國定假日數量約為 10 天（並且可能因州而異）。
但是在美國，病假可以隨意休，不用附醫生證明, 而且是全薪的。 在台灣，拿到醫生證明才可以請病假，特別麻煩是生病不想出門的時候還要去拿這個證明.
In addition, according to a survey by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average number of paid vacation days for employees in private industry and state and local government in 2020 was about 10 days per year for employees with one year of service, and 15 days per year for employees with five years of service. However in Taiwan, most companies go by the Labor Standards Act, which gives employees that have worked one year or less only three paid vacation days. After one year, the employee earns seven vacation days, and after two years 10 vacation days.
In addition, Taiwan implements the work/school makeup day system, which means that employees are forced to work on Saturdays many times throughout the year. There are six makeup days in 2023!
This longer workweek in Taiwan is partly a reflection of the culture's strong work ethic, which places a high value on hard work and productivity.
此外，根據美國勞工統計局的一項調查，2020年私營企業和州及地方政府僱員的平均帶薪休假天數，服務滿一年的員工每年約10天，服務滿一年的員工則為15天。 然而在台灣，大多數公司都遵守《勞工標準法》，該法只給工作一年或以下的員工提供三個有薪休假日。 一年後，員工獲得 7 天有薪假，兩年後獲得 10 天。
9. Work-life balance 工作與生活平衡:
Taiwanese culture tends to prioritize work over leisure and personal life, while American culture places a greater emphasis on work-life balance and personal time.
In my personal experience, I think the economic development in Taiwan happened too fast, so the older generation doesn’t know what to do with their leisure time because they spent all their free time working while they were young. It seems older Taiwanese people don’t have hobbies but earn money just to earn money, not because they need money or they want to do something or achieve a life goal, but just because they like to work and earn money.
However, the younger generation likes leisure time more and knows how to enjoy themselves even with much smaller salaries.
This gap between older and younger generations is getting worse because no one in Taiwanese companies want to retire.
The older generation seems to live to work, while the younger generations work to live.
Also, you can forget about remote or hybrid working. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Taiwan never really went under lockdown, and office workers could always come to the office to work, therefore sadly hybrid and remote working never became a thing. Most traditional Taiwanese companies will not have this kind of option.
此外，您可以不用想遠端的工作。 在 COVID-19 大流行期間，台灣沒有真正封城，上班族總是可以來辦公室工作，因此可悲的是，混合和遠端工作從未成為常態。 大多數傳統台灣公司不會有這種選擇。
10. Life Goals and Success 人生目標與成就
In Taiwan, there is a strong emphasis on academic achievement and career success, with many people valuing a stable job and financial security. In the United States, success is often defined more broadly, with people valuing personal achievements and experiences in addition to career success.
In Taiwan, life goals and success are defined by working in the same company for your whole life and then finally retiring. There is also strong pressure from family to marry and produce children, especially for men.
In America, people tend to have more varied life goals such as accomplishing a certain project, learning skills, or advancing the corporate ladder. Success is also defined more in terms of single accomplishments over the span of a career.
Please note that in the following conclusion I will share my personal views. As you can tell, I am biased and I prefer American work culture. Overall, I think Taiwan's work culture is stuck in the past, is based on a manufacturing economy, and needs to improve to accommodate modern office work.
My views are based on my experience of working in very traditional Taiwanese work cultures over ten years in Taiwan. Not every Taiwanese company has these problems and some foreigners in Taiwan are lucky to work for companies with more western oriented work culture, but according to my experience with others working in Taiwan as normal employees (not on secondment assignments) the following will be true.
請注意，在下面的結論中，我將分享我的個人觀點。 如您所知，我有偏見，我更喜歡美國的工作文化。 總的來說，我認為台灣的工作文化停留在過去，以製造業為基礎，需要改進以適應現代辦公室的文化.
Advice for Taiwanese thinking about working in America 給去美國工作的台灣人的建議:
Advice for Americans thinking about working in Taiwan 給去台灣工作的美國人的建議:
The above advice for Americans in Taiwan is not good advice for being a productive worker.
However, if you want to survive long-term in a traditional Taiwanese corporate work environment, you should do all of the above. If you do, you will be able to keep your job and earn the affection of your boss. If not, something will eventually go wrong for you.
Again, the above is heartfelt and sincere advice for anyone that wants to survive long-term in a traditional Taiwanese work culture.
但是，如果你想在台灣企業的工作環境中長期生存，你應該做到以上幾點。 如果這樣做，您將能夠保住工作並贏得老闆的喜愛。 否則，您最終會出問題。
Taiwan needs to give its workers back their rest days and their weekends. It also needs to lower the limit for labor unions, so that workers can fight for their rights and continue to lobby to improve the law. When this happens, Taiwan workers will be happier, more productive, and willing to stay. Otherwise, the brain drain will continue, and foreign professionals will not want to work here.
台灣需要還給員工他們的休息日和周末。 臺灣還需要降低工會的限制，以便工人可以爭取自己的權利，並繼續改善法律。 這樣的話，台灣勞工會更快樂，更富有成效，願意留下來。 否則，人才流失將繼續，外國專業人士也不會想在台灣工作。
In summary, the differences between Taiwanese and American work cultures are significant and can be attributed to the unique values and beliefs of each culture. Understanding these differences is crucial for anyone hoping to work effectively in either culture, as it allows them to navigate the workplace more successfully and build positive relationships with colleagues. I hope this information is helpful to others, especially westerners who want to come work in Taiwan professionally for the long term.
總而言之，台灣和美國的工作文化之間存在顯著差異，這可以歸因於每種文化的獨特價值觀。 了解這些差異對於任何希望在這兩種文化中有效工作的人來說都是至關重要的，因為它可以讓他們更成功工作並與同事建立更好的關係。 我希望這些論點對其他人有幫助，尤其是想長期來台灣工作的西方人。
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We are US Expats that have extensive experience living, working, and travelling in Taiwan. In our day, we had to learn many things about Taiwan the hard way. But we have come to learn that Taiwan is one of the best places in the world for Foreigners to live. Our blog does not represent the opinions of every foreigner in Taiwan. We are just trying to help others learn more about this beautiful country.