Work like a dog and suffer

Updated: 2013-06-11 02:23

By He Na (China Daily)

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Death from overwork is becoming common, writes He Na, so white-collar workers have to change their lifestyle and read the symptoms of an impending danger to avoid disaster.

A 24-year-old employee at Ogilvy China, a public relations consultancy in Beijing, died after suffering a heart attack at work on May 13. According to investigations, his micro blog showed that he had been working overtime for a month without a break. Almost a month has passed, and many of his colleagues and friends still refuse to accept that he is dead. "He didn't talk much. But he was broad-minded and healthy. He loved sports and had a passion for music … whenever I think of him a picture of a happy and energetic man appears in front of my eyes," recalled one of his colleagues who didn't want to be named.

Work like a dog and suffer

Two days later, on May 15, another 24-year-old man, who worked for a well-known IT company in Fuzhou, capital of Fujian province, suddenly collapsed at a bus station in the morning and died two hours later in a hospital despite doctors' desperate attempt to save him. He had a heavy workload and often worked late into the night, which have been blamed for his sudden death.

No words can express the loss of such young lives, and the list of people dying from overwork is lengthening by the day. Overwork has become a hot topic of discussion on the Internet and triggered a public outcry. And netizens have urged the authorities to establish a healthy working style and take measures to relieve the pressure on employees.

"I've put myself to different tests to see if I'm overworked or not, and all the results show that I am," says Zhang Yingying, 32, who works for an education service company in Beijing. Zhang is in charge of arranging teachers' training meetings and spends most of her time traveling. As a team leader, she often has to attend to more than 100 people at a time, which includes arranging for their train tickets, rooms, meals, course selection, sightseeing and safety.

"The upcoming summer vacation is the busiest time of the year for us. I didn't get a single day off for two months last year. Generally speaking, at least two people are needed to organize a meeting. But to cut the costs, one person has to do the work of two people," she says.

She stayed in her Beijing home for only about a week in May. Now she is in Shanghai for a meeting, which is scheduled to continue until June 15.

"I feel sleepy all the time. I used to have thick hair, which is now thinning. I joined a gym for one year, but in the past six months I have been there only twice," she says.

Zhang has a performance-related pay and the company decides all the employees' bonus at the end of every month. "For the sake of money and face, I have to work overtime. But I'm a little worried because I'm still single, and I really don't want to die young," Zhang says in a lighter vein.

Caution is the key

Career crisis could lead to overwork, and overwork could lead to mental stress, says Hu Yinglian, a teacher at the School of Public Policy and Management at the Chinese Academy of Governance.

Since China's social security system is still far from perfect, people feel insecure when it comes to medical care, housing, children's education and pension. They try to work overtime to make as much money as possible to improve their living standards, often at the cost of their health.

What's more, some underlying problems such as the widening income gap further exacerbate the social ethos of making more money in the shortest possible time, Hu says. "If stress keeps mounting, people's anxiety can turn into mental problems."

"Some people say that there's no motivation without pressure," Hu says. "But we need to understand that pressure should be within limits. Or else, the consequences will be severe."

Overwork caused the deaths of many young and middle-aged people in Japan in the 1970s to 1980s, when that country was experiencing high economic growth. The figure in China, however, is no less alarming. A Xinhua News Agency report says about 600,000 people die from overwork in China every year.

According to a survey conducted by Ciming Checkup, a health checkup chain, last year, 36.3 percent of the more than 220,000 white-collar respondents said they worked more than nine hours a day and more than 60 percent said they worked overtime regularly.

Another survey, carried out by China Medical Doctor Association, showed that 76 percent of the white-collar workers were not in good health. It also showed that 60 percent of the white-collar workers in metropolises such as Beijing and Shanghai frequently worked overtime.

"Whenever I hear about young people dying from overwork, I get nervous for a couple of days because I'm afraid that my lifestyle is pushing me to the edge," says Lu Yi, a 30-year-old consultant manager of an insurance company in Beijing.

"I am 185 cm tall and I weigh about 100 kilograms. My friends feel I am very strong, but the fact is I contract the flu whenever the season changes," he says. "I rack my brains to find ways to explore new clients and, at the same time, to keep in touch with my old clients by sending them messages and gifts or inviting them to dinner. This takes up almost all my leisure time."

Compared with physical fatigue, Lu says, the high pressure of work is more unbearable. "Whenever I think that tomorrow I have to attend a meeting, to report to my boss, to meet a client … I have sleepless nights and often need to take mild tranquilizers to fall sleep."

Keeping healthy

"Smoking, drinking, obesity, overwork and high mental stress are all closely related to sudden death," says Huo Yong, president of the Chinese Society of Cardiology. "Most of the sudden death victims suffer from some sort of heart disease."

According to Huo, signs appear several days or weeks before the heart stops beating suddenly. The common signs include angina, irregularity of pulse, nausea, headache and irritability.

"Many people busy with work often neglect these symptoms and don't realize how serious they could be," Huo says. People need not panic as long as they pay attention to these symptoms and visit a doctor in time and enjoy more rest. Death from overwork can certainly be avoided.

"Don't think overwork is not a big health problem because you are young and strong. Exercise more but don't strain yourself if you feel very tired. And learn to defuse anger and discontent," Huo says.

A healthy diet and sufficient sleep and rest are also very important, he adds.

Protection and compensation

"There is no proper legal compensation for death from overwork," says Huang Leping, director of Beijing Yilian Legal Aid and Research Center of Labor. According to the Regulation on Work-related Injury Insurances, if an employee dies in harness or of an occupational disease, his/her death can be regarded as work-related.

In such cases, a victim's family members can seek compensation from the employer. But because of lack of a specific law, seldom does a victim's family get adequate compensation.

"Besides, most of the time, it is very hard to prove that a person died because of overwork. So the victim's family cannot even apply for compensation," Huang says.

"With more people dying from overwork, we suggest the authorities enact a law to treat such cases as work-related deaths to better protect workers' rights and legal interests," Huang says.