Here are two very disturbing statistics:
- Every year, 300,000 Americans die from obesity (Source: NIH)
- Every year, 600,000 Chinese die from working too hard (Source: China Youth Daily, China Radio)
The rest, as the Chairmanwoman says, is “noise.”
Still, here are some of the disturbing details from Bloomberg about a country that doesn’t believe in downtime:
China is facing an epidemic of overwork, to hear the state-controlled press and Chinese social media tell it. About 600,000 Chinese a year die from working too hard, according to the China Youth Daily. China Radio International in April reported a toll of 1,600 every day.
Microblogging website Weibo is filled with complaints about stressed-out lives and chatter about reports of others, young and old, worked to death: a 24-year-old junior employee at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide Inc., a 25-year-old auditor at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP; one of the chief designers of China’s next-generation fighter planes at state-run AVIC Shenyang Aircraft Corp.
“What’s the point of working overtime so you can work to death?” asked one commentator on Weibo, lamenting that his boss told employees to spend more time on the job.
China is not the first country where people have worked themselves to death:
Japan is where the term karoshi, or death from overwork, gained notoriety in previous decades. It encompasses deaths from stroke, heart attack, cerebral hemorrhage or other sudden causes related to demands of the workplace. Because the causal relationship to work-related stress may not be evident, the death toll can be subjective and difficult to compile.
Japan’s parliament passed a law on June 20 calling for support centers, aid to businesses for prevention programs and more research on karoshi. The government in 2012 compensated 813 families able to show a link between overwork, illness and death, including 93 suicides. The actual toll may be higher. Japan’s police agency counted more than 2,000 work-related suicides in 2013, and lawyers in 2009 said 10,000 deaths a year may be from overwork.
But China, with its world-record population, is taking work deaths to a whole new level:
In China, such deaths are known as guolaosi. “We have noticed that excessive overtime in China has become an issue,” the director of the International Labour Organization’s China office, Tim De Meyer, wrote in an e-mailed response to questions. “It is worrying as a physical and mental-health hazard.”
Work-life balance gets short shrift in a society that combines a modern pursuit of riches with an ancient belief in putting the community above the individual, said Yang Heqing, Dean of the School of Labor Economics at the Capital University of Economics and Business in Beijing. In parts of China’s capital he’s surveyed, 60 percent of workers complain of clocking more than the legal limit of two hours a day of overtime, taking a toll on workers’ family and health, he said. He’s skeptical of the 600,000 figure, which he said may include other causes, and is working to compile his own data.
So why are people dying in the name of their job? “In China there’s still the belief that you do things for the development of the good of the nation, for development of the economy, to forget your own self,” said Capital University’s Yang. “But don’t forget, overwork also causes harm to the nation and to the family.”
Well, that. And there’s this:
Now, cubicle jockeys like regulator Li toil overtime in a society where issues of work-life balance are low on the agenda and self-sacrifice is the norm. Add to that long commutes and the detrimental consequences to health and family life start to add up, Capital University’s Yang said.
Family photos are rarely seen in Chinese offices, and workers are regularly expected to dine out entertaining clients. It’s common for children of urban professionals to be raised by grandparents in distant provinces.
Today’s worked-to-death workers are held up as China’s heroes for the modern age, cut from the same self-sacrificing cloth as earlier communist martyrs such as Lei Feng, a soldier in the People’s Liberation Army who has been lionized in propaganda campaigns since the 1960s for his selfless devotion to the Communist Party.
Whatever the reason, Americans are hardly at risk of mass deaths due to overwork-related exhaustion. Actually, we take that back. Since it is becoming increasingly impossible for young Americans to find jobs (no, it is not demographics’ fault that millions are leaving the labor force as more millions are entering it) as can be seen in the following chart showing the labor force participation rate of Americans aged 16-19…
… yet older American workers, those aged 55 and older, have seemingly never been in greater demand…
… it is only a matter of time before the average age of the US worker rises to 50, then 60, then 70, and then these geriatric debt serfs, with no other options, their savings income crushed by the sociopaths at the Federal Reserve, start dropping like flies. Then America will have finally caught up with China for once.