Choose life

By Jonathan Jones
0 CommentsPrint E-mail, April 20, 2011
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Pan Jie was a junior auditor of the PricewaterhouseCoopers Shanghai office

The recent tragic death of Pan Jie, a 25-year old auditor for PricewaterhouseCoopers in Shanghai, has sparked a heated debate on the potentially devastating effects of excessive work fatigue.

Overwork is not a new phenomenon. Many generations and many nationalities have been subjected to it at one time or another but what makes it so relevant here and now is the economic path China has embarked upon. No-one has ever questioned the nation's work ethic but as the drive towards increasing wealth continues so does the demand on individuals to provide that all important profit margin.

Few would seriously complain if it was a one-off or rare occurrence. A need to work extra hours to produce a late but urgent order is sometimes a business reality but when it becomes the norm, when regular hours are never enough to cover demand, something is seriously wrong.

Capitalism, for all its arguable benefits, is based upon payments for service. A business is paid for the service it provides. They in turn, keep a slice of profit for themselves before paying their employees for the work they provide. When that particular service is not deemed worthy of payment you have a problem, both morally and financially.

"Voluntary-overtime" is a long established but still widely-prevalent joke in the west and appears to be gaining ground here. Unscrupulous employers rely upon employees desire to please and often load extra duties upon them. They may bestow fancy job titles to cajole people into committing their own time to the business needs or simply bully them into providing the extra hours for free. The results are the same. Short term gain for the employers but at the long term detriment of the employee.

 Besides the tangible breakdown in industrial relations and imbalance of created wealth the impact upon an individual's health can be devastating. In a country of over a billion people that may seem like a small price to pay for increased productivity. It isn't.

A sustainable work-life balance is vital not only for the individual, but also for the family and wider society as a whole. In order for China to reach its true potential it needs its population to be creative and innovative as well as industrious. By being a slave to short-term profit, by constantly working over hours, minds and bodies are so tired they cannot possibly perform to the best of their ability and are at risk of fatal breakdown.

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