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Death sparks debate on overtime

Though there’s no direct relationship between Li’s overtime and his heart attack, the incident brings to mind the death of a 25-year-old white collar employee at PriceWaterhouse Coopers in China who passed away from viral encephalitis in April 2011.

Many speculated her death to be a result of overwork.

According to a Beijing-based recruitment website – zhaopin.com – more than 70% of employees in the mainland said they suffered from overwork and feel heavy pressure. Of the 5,000 employees polled across the country, almost half said they felt they were suffering during and after work. Forty percent even went to say they frequently lose their tempers during office hours.

Though remorseful, chairman and chief executive officer of WE Marketing and council member of The Hong Kong Management Association Viveca Chan, said an 11 p.m. over-time is very normal for agencies, adding that a number of agency people will go into work late if they pull overtime.

“It’s sad, but are those hours really long? Not really. People in investment banking go till 7 a.m.,” she said.

Managing director of China for Robert Walters, Matthew Bennett, attributes the issue of overworked employees in the region to employers cutting costs, a cultural tendency to not challenge authority on the employees’ behalf and the perspective that overtime adds value to an individual.

“People need to look at the bottom line: this is why we’re seeing less and less new positions coming into the marketplace. People are not being replaced. But employees, too, need to learn to manage their time more efficiently and communicate when things get out of hand.”

“The market is tough out there at the moment: if someone is not doing their job well, they think that the extra hours will give them that extra edge. That’s when people need to look to up-skill themselves to become more efficient.”

Though he laments that the situation will not change any time soon, especially for businesses like agencies and accounting firms where working hours has its ups and downs, Bennett admitted that he is seeing stress-level rises for healthy people aged 30 to 35.

“You can’t go on a witch hunt to think that the Ogilvy employed passed away because of overtime. You need to look at his health and lifestyle. But 24 year old is really ridiculous.”

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