Community, Taoke (Business)

Dear “COOs”: Why Job Applicants Are Avoiding Fil-Chi Companies

Disclaimer: It goes without saying that this is not a blanket portrayal of all Filipino-Chinese companies– only that there is a certain amount of avoidance and negative impressions of Fil-Chi companies in the job market. Truth be told, the reasons are compelling.

COO Is Slang for Child of the Owner

When I graduated from college sometime in August, I started showing up at our family business to encode old records, count bills, and offer assistance wherever possible because I needed the productivity. On the side, I sent out job applications for marketing and copywriting positions and dreamt of starting my own business. My parents asked me why I decided to venture out of the family business. I gave them practical reasons: experiences, skills, and connections– but truthfully, it was the fear of being labeled as a COO, Child of the Owner

Buti ka pa may family business ka, may fallback ka,” a fellow COO recounted the imaginary words of their college peers. “They didn’t say that, no. But I sensed that’s how they felt.”

In a vacuum, there’s nothing wrong with inheriting the family business. It’s a blood-sweat-and-tears-inclusive gift from your parents dedicated lovingly to you… but when non-family employees are involved, COOs do sense the nepotism waving hello. It doesn’t matter that you just graduated from college with no real work experience, that you barely earn any real salary, or that you worked your way up the family biz– you’ll be offered a job effortlessly from the get-go, you’ll always be treated well by your parent-supervisor, you’ll benefit from the income your parents take home, and you’ll get promotions faster than employees who have been there for a decade. We’re blessed with a cushy safety net so we shouldn’t complain.

What do you do when you’re building credibility to mitigate your title? Job hunting! When and how do you do it? ASAP and impulsively!

Online Forums Killed the Radio Star

As fresh graduates on a job hunt, we try to gain personal insights and anecdotes from friends and acquaintances who have been in the game for some time, and when information feels sparse, we turn to online communities and forums. I frequent two active popular forums dedicated to sharing job and employment experiences in the Philippines. These forums are fairly new but have a sizable member count of around 50,000.

What makes this platform so impactful is the anonymity. Whatever stories you share about your current or previous employment can’t be traced back to you because, to everyone, you’re just a customized avatar with a nonsensical username. Consequently, there are no holds barred honesty. You’re free to ask questions about your current circumstances and offer sage advice as long as it’s related to jobs. 

Most submissions bare bad practices in the job market and in the workplace, some even mentioning explicit details of what went down. I’ve read stories about harassment, micromanaging bosses, pasipsip coworkers, embarrassing work mistakes, annoying team building exercises, and dirt compensation; on the opposite end of the spectrum, there are also stories of “green flag” companies, professional growth, tripled compensation, and a great work-life balance. 

Hustle ‘Til You Guzzle

In 2020, the world was introduced to the hustle culture powered by work-from-home setups. The gig economy, call center agencies, and virtual assistant industries skyrocketed in the Philippines. Filipino employees were introduced to worldly work environments, foreign bosses with varying work ethics, and– not to mention– way better pay. Employees were starting to see just how unhappy they were with the local job market.

One fresh graduate with an organizational communication degree shared their outlook on local and international employers: “My peers aren’t shy about sharing what their starting salaries are, the culture in their workplace, and workload they’re given. I’ve heard several stories from friends working for PH companies receiving ridiculously low salaries to staying overtime without pay, which is just heartbreaking to hear from some of the most hardworking people you know.” 

They currently work from home for a Singaporean company. “I realized my worth when I started getting paid for ALL my work. For anything I did extra, I was rightfully compensated for it. Because of this, I felt like my efforts and time were valued by my superiors. My higher-ups also regularly performed wellness check-ups and team events which made me feel more human.”

But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows in the cross-border BPO industry and the gig economy. Exploitation bobs up when foreign employers boast about earning half a million dollars a year thanks to their $2.50/hour Filipino virtual assistants. When you pay a human being living in a third-world country plagued with price hikes better, do you call it the obvious right thing to do, or do you call it a PR solution? 

Some local businesses large and small perceive unions and employee rights antagonistically to the point that employees don’t even trust their HR department. Multiple commenters in the forums know by heart that when there’s foul play in the workplace, the HR department will always put the company first. 

Facing injustices with nobody to lean on, a bunch of Filipino nine-to-fivers came together and established a Filipino community centered on work reform by championing better labor practices and fighting work exploitation for a better quality of life. The forum used to be all tumbleweeds and crickets, but in Q2 of 2022, a post singlehandedly lit a spark. 

It’s Name-Drop O’Clock

The post read (and I paraphrase): Worst PH companies for employees.

Hundreds of users flocked to the comments section and, lo and behold, an unofficial employer blacklist was formed. If colleges had “Profs to Pick”, the workforce has this. It was a free-for-all alternative to the reviews in popular job-hunting platforms Glassdoor, Indeed, and Jobstreet only it was much more… informative, I’d say. Household names and lesser-known companies graced the comments section with revealed truths about their work environment, workload, overtime, power-tripping, nepotism, stagnancy, sexism, unprofessionalism, and gross intersectionality. Some names were straight-up written and searchable; some were encoded alphanumerically so it wouldn’t be easy to search. All of the reviews were scathing. 

One might argue that employees are just generally inclined to resent their jobs just like how students don’t like studying from 7 am to 4 pm. Well, there’s that and then an iceberg more.

Here are some of the submissions I’ve read: Employees weren’t allowed to go home even after completing their work hours until their bosses left the office. Salaries were delayed for two months. HR looked the other way when there was a sexual harassment case that was served hot among office gossipmongers. Employees risked their mental health for unpaid overtime. The list goes on.

The Fil-Chi Part That You’re Here For

While I was sifting through the comments, I noticed the keywords “family business” and “Fil-Chi” pop up together and exclusively. There are a total of 59 comments and 2 posts that mention the keyword “Fil-Chi”. There’s also the alternative keyword “Chinoy” which is in 6 comments and 1 post. “Filipino-Chinese or Filipino Chinese” is in 13 comments and 3 posts. All of these comments and posts belong to just one forum. Most of these submissions didn’t share the name of the company, only that it was best to avoid Fil-Chi companies for multiple reasons. 

But why call them Fil-Chi companies instead of just companies? One user justified (and I paraphrase): It’s the management style. Now, before you go “who are these people to single us Chinoys out?”, remember that these companies are all blended in one semi-murky pond– a few users actually noted that not all Fil-Chi companies are bad employers. One mentioned how comparable her Chinoy employer was to Western employers in terms of generous benefits and leaves and an empathetic management style. 

Nevertheless, Filipinos and younger Chinoys already have a negative perception of working for Filipino-Chinese companies and the reasons are compelling. 

Here are a couple of grievances I’ve gathered from the online forum: 

    1. Lots of overtime.
    2. Nepotism, especially when family members who don’t do much receive salaries.
    3. Verbal abuse and public humiliation.
    4. Amo-Katulong relationship instead of Employee-Employer relationship.
    5. Racial discrimination. 
    6. ‘Boomer’ mindset.
    7. Outdated systems.
    8. Low pay and unlikely promotions.
    9. Occasional infighting between family members.

We already know that the biggest Chinoy stereotypes are stinginess and workaholism. Business is in our blood. We start ‘em young. We are prudent yet opulent.

Let’s be honest: these online sentiments match our general nature, no matter how much we try to defend ourselves. Regardless, it’s not a one size fits all situation; every business juggles its own pros and cons, but how many boxes have you ticked?

Some Chinoy college graduates without family businesses also tread lightly in the presence of Fil-Chi companies due to stories they’ve heard from their corporate peers. I’ve also noticed two Chinoy users in the forum who have had negative experiences working for Fil-Chi employers for a combination of the reasons stated above.

A Chinoy fresh grad with a degree in information design recalled her experiences working for a Fil-Chi company: “Most of the time they forced me or guilt-tripped me into working overtime, and it was even worse for my co-workers because they were forced to OT on rest days without choice. On top of that, we only had one rest day so they were basically working for them every day. The pay is terrible, and the OT compensation isn’t better. If you do 1-2 hours for OT, it’s worth 50 pesos.”

Older Chinese managers and CEOs get such a bad rap. Is it possible to reverse this perception or do old dogs refuse to learn new tricks? 

To: COOs; CC: Owners and Managers

We’ll always encounter a fork in the road: the family business, the corporate world, or something else. An undoubted privilege comes with the COO security blanket, but is your heart telling you to go rogue and find employment elsewhere? After all, some say that COOs that ooze entitlement and apathy toward employees haven’t had a taste of their own medicine.

If not, and you find yourself working in your parents’ tiam lai, that’s fine. The feeling of guilt shouldn’t stop you from inheriting your parents’ gift to you, because you know deep down that you can strive to be better just as the generations after you will too.

吃水不忘挖井人. Indeed, drinking the water of a well, one should never forget who dug it, but the essence of time is progress. 

As my organizational management professor says (and I paraphrase): transforming an organization requires a change agent who must have a position of power and influence, technical know-how, support from high-level managers, and dissatisfaction with the current system. 

Who else will this change agent be if not you?

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