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Not Quite Layoffs Watch ’12: PwC China, Hong Kong

Does anyone think that this sounds strange?

This week, accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers announced that to help avoid layoffs, employees in mainland China and Hong Kong will be offered a chance to take an additional 12 days’ holiday in the coming months, of which eight of them will be unpaid. The company is also launching a “voluntary career break” program, which allows such staff to take extended holidays ranging between two weeks and six months, during which they are paid 20% of their regular salary.

Okay, so if you're allowed to take an additional 12 days vacation – even if two-thirds of those days you'll be vacationing for free – but the firm welcomes you back to work, I guess you can technically say that's not a layoff. And a "voluntary career break" sounds pretty great except for the fact that you'd be making one-fifth of your salary. I don't know how the run-of-the-mill auditor in China lives, but I think we can all agree that if this option was offered in the States, most of you would, you know, not take it ever. Actually, it is offered here – it's called a leave of absence.

That said, if we are to believe the message coming out of the firm, then all these surprise bonus holiday opportunities and career timeouts are NBD. Plus, people are digging it: 

“Our profession is quite volatile,” PwC China human capital partner Yvonne Kam said Wednesday. “In a buoyant economy, we work really hard. But in downturns, we can afford to be taking more time off and to spend it with friends and families.” So far, she says, employee response has been positive, and that many had already been planning to take off time around the year-end holidays.

And if anyone's concerned about the firm's plans for expansion in China…don't be:

Late last year, PricewaterhouseCoopers announced it was planning to significantly expand its presence in China and Hong Kong, adding an additional 5,000 people to its roster of 10,000 in Hong Kong and on the mainland by 2016. On Wednesday, Ms. Kam said those plans remained on track. “We have very aggressive plans to grow and nothing’s going to stop us from doing that,” she said.

Business as usual.

‘Voluntary Career Break’ For Hong Kong Workers [China Realtime Report/WSJ]