Winkler Partners’ child friendly policies were recently featured in an article by Social Enterprise Insights that looked at how businesses in Taiwan can do more to support families. This is an English translation of the original Chinese-language article by Head of Translation, Paul Cox.
To work or to parent—does it have to be either/or? Family-friendly work environments support healthy child rearing
Author: Yu-Ching Su
When Patty Chen joined the law firm Winkler Partners, a certified B Corporation, as a secretary, she wasn’t yet married, and was focused on forging her career. Today, nearly 20 years later, she is the mother of two children, aged 7 and 4. But she has never had to step away from pursuing her career ideals.
During her work life, she has never fretted that others might look askance at her taking maternity or parental leave, nor feared for her job security after taking leave. On the contrary, her employer Winkler Partners makes special efforts to give its employees an environment conducive to child rearing, surpassing the requirements of Taiwan’s Labor Standards Act. It invites employees to bring their children to work, so they can keep their kids close to them without sacrificing their professional aspirations.
Taiwan law entitles women to 8 weeks of maternity leave and men, 5 days of paternity leave. Both parents may apply for unpaid parental leave during the period before their child reaches the age of three. From Winkler Partners’ perspective, the law sets only a bare minimum standard. More than a decade ago, to improve on this standard, the firm began collecting suggestions from employees, holding firm-wide discussions, and drafting and revising proposals. It ultimately decided to extend maternity leave to 12 weeks for female employees and paternity leave to 30 days for male employees.
“This process began with our employees themselves voicing their needs, our listening to their needs, and after mutual discussion and revision, putting new systems in place to satisfy each proposal to the greatest extent possible,” explains Firm Partner Peter Dernbach, who takes pleasure in helping each employee balance the varying demands of work and family encountered at different stages of life.
Outlooks like this are not found at every workplace in Taiwan, however.
Taiwan’s Act of Gender Equality in Employment requires employers to provide employees with benefits including maternity and paternity leave, flexibility in working hours, and family care leave. However, a 2020 survey by the Womany Media Group found that less than 30% of respondents felt supported by their workplace in this regard. Many parents of both sexes encounter negative pressures from the workplace when it comes to applying for leave, which can deprive them of the opportunity to enjoy this basic right.
The Ministry of Labor’s 2018 Survey on Employment Equality at the Workplace likewise shows that female employees have suffered unequal treatment in the workplace related to their pregnancy or giving birth. Most prevalently, this takes the form of obstacles to applying for leave. Because prevailing attitudes in society and the workplace are often less than friendly to the needs of employees to balance work and parenting, the matter of applying for leave is a common cause of emotional stress for employees.
Improving this state of affairs will depend on business and government becoming more attuned to the needs of the public and taking steps to create childcare-friendly workplace environments, so that everyone can enjoy the right to work-life balance.
We’ve got your back in child rearing! This Taiwan business firmly believes in offering benefits surpassing legal requirements
Businesses taking the right actions is key to creating a family-friendly workplace environment. For example, Winkler Partners, a law firm with some 60 employees, not only provides more maternity and paternity leave than is required by law, it also has voluntarily created a childcare space at its office. (Article 23 of Taiwan’s Act of Gender Equality in Employment requires employers having 100 employees or more to provide childcare facilities and measures.)
Winkler Partners has set up a modest-sized childcare area, and its employees are welcome to invite their parents or a nanny to come to the office and help take care of their kids. For employees’ children who are already in kindergarten or elementary school, Winkler Partners, in cooperation with the Department of Early Childhood and Family Education of National Taipei University of Education, has arranged for students of the department to come to its workplace and engage the kids in after-school play and learning activities.
Patty Chen shares that being able to bring her kids to the office has spared her a lot of inconvenience and slog: “Because the kids usually travel with me to and from work, we can keep a shared daily routine, and I’m not burdened with having to separately coordinate the kids’ schedules after leaving the office,” Patty says. “Also, having the nanny and kids at the office means I can look in on them whenever I want, which puts my mind at ease.”
Winkler Partners has been implementing its unique childcare system for 16 years now. Peter Dernbach observes, “Since we began letting employees bring their children to work, our employee turnover has decreased, and our colleagues feel closer to each other.
But does having kids present in the office environment cause distraction for the employees as a whole? The key lies in the design of the work areas and leisure and childcare areas. At Winkler Partners, the leisure and childcare spaces are in a corner of the office at a slight distance from the main work areas. The sounds of children laughing and playing may occasionally carry into the work areas, but not to a degree that interferes with employees’ ability to concentrate on their jobs.
What are other countries doing? Some possible directions for public policy and social innovation
From an international perspective, Northern European countries, which rank relatively high in birthrate worldwide, use policies including moderately shortened or flexible working hours and lengthened maternity, paternity, and parental care leave to create a balance between family life and work.
Standards adopted by the International Labor Organization call for countries to legislate a minimum of 14 weeks (approximately 3 months) of maternity leave for female employees. According to a study by the US-based Maternal and Child Health Journal, maternity leave makes a crucial contribution to new mothers’ physical health and ability to cope with stress.
In Denmark, which is recognized for having a high level of public well-being and happiness, women are entitled to 18 weeks (approximately 5 months) of paid pregnancy and maternity leave during the period before and after giving birth. Their spouse is entitled to 2 weeks of leave after the birth. There then follows an additional 32 weeks (approximately 8 months) of parental leave that the two spouses can freely share between them. This system promotes the sharing of responsibilities within the family, and lets both parents have ample time to spend on childcare. Denmark furthermore has the lowest average working hours in the world, with workers working an average of around just 7 hours a day. This further helps both parents to balance their time spent on work and child rearing.
Sweden, which is well reputed for gender equality and child-friendliness, provides each working parent with 480 days (around 16 months) of flexible maternity, paternity, and parental leave that don’t expire until 8 years from the child’s birth (or adoption) and can be broken up and taken in periods of months, weeks, days, or hours, according to the specific needs of each family. Sweden also offers another special childcare benefit: parents can claim a payment of up to 80 percent of their usual wage if they need to stay home from work when their child is unwell.
In 2020, the Finnish Government announced that it would extend paid parental leave for both parents from 2-4 months to 7 months. Finland is also well known for promoting flexible working hours and remote work mechanisms, which help working parents tailor their work times and places to best meet their needs and balance family life and work.
Countries around the world are actively introducing legislation and promoting cooperation between businesses and government to improve workplace environments. In Japan, some private businesses have launched programs to help mothers tend to both family and work. Mama Square, a Japanese company launched in 2014, operates as a customer service center that provides a staffed daycare center for its employees. This setup benefits the employees, whose work time is freed up by the on-site nursery workers. It also solves the company’s problems of high turnover of service staff and difficulty of recruitment.
“Declining birthrate is a shared issue facing government, families, businesses, and society. Each of these can address it in different ways. What businesses can do is, when employees face the life challenges that come with having children, we can provide a better work environment, so that our employees can work with greater peace of mind. In turn, they can perform better in their work, and provide better service. This is definitely a winning situation all around,” says Peter Dernbach with conviction.
This article was planned by Social Enterprise Insights and YongLin Foundation and independently produced by Social Enterprise Insights. The translation was performed by Winkler Partners Head of Translation, Paul Cox. Social Enterprise Insights has granted us permission to republish this article. The original Chinese-language article can be found here.Paul Cox.