Less cof­fee no so­lu­tion to over work

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - PAGE TWO - Rose­mary Bol­ger

One of the pleas­ant as­pects of my new life in Bei­jing has been re­dis­cov­er­ing what it’s like to have a lunch break. A whole hour and a half in the mid­dle of a work day to do with what­ever I want.

That’s enough time to meet friends and have an ac­tual sit­down lunch. At my old job in Aus­tralia, the most com­mon sit-down lunches I had were at my desk. Here, you can go for a walk or to the gym (de­pend­ing on the pol­lu­tion), or be pro­duc­tive and get some chores done. Some of my col­leagues even take a nap.

I’ve never had such a good work-life bal­ance, so it came as a shock to read that this is not the case for many peo­ple in China. Young peo­ple espe- cially are lit­er­ally work­ing them­selves into an early grave. China Cen­tral Tele­vi­sion re­ported a re­cent case of a 24-year-old en­gi­neer be­lieved to have died from over­work. While the over­time prob­lem was news to me, it didn’t take much dig­ging to see pres­sure on work­ers to re­main at their desks way past their eight hours has been build­ing for some time. Even those that clock off on time are only a phone call or email away thanks to the in­ter­net and mo­bile phones.

Al­most 600,000 Chi­nese die from work­ing too hard each year, ac­cord­ing to a study re­leased in 2014. Al­though it’s hard to pin down ex­actly what fa­tal con­di­tions count to­ward that, it’s an alarm­ing fig­ure. The re­sponse to some extreme cases of over­time on so­cial me­dia sug­gests many stressed out, tired work­ers don’t find it too hard to be­lieve.

Over­time in short bursts is not a bad thing. It gives com­pa­nies the flex­i­bil­ity to cope with par­tic­u­larly busy times or short-term is­sues. The prob­lem is when the in­creased work­load be­comes the norm.

So what can be done about it? One story about this is­sue re­ferred to ad­vice on sina.com.cn sug­gest­ing peo­ple man­age fa­tigue by eat­ing more fruit and veg­eta­bles, avoid­ing cof­fee, ex­er­cis­ing and tak­ing a shower. While those tips are fine for lead­ing a gen­er­ally health­ier and hy­gienic life­style, less caf­feine and snacks is not go­ing to be much help to peo­ple chained to their desk.

There’s re­ally only one so­lu­tion. Less hours. Whether we can con­vince some­one to go home when they are des­per­ate to im­press their su­pe­ri­ors, or fear be­ing la­beled a slacker if they don’t work round the clock, de­pends more on their col- leagues than the boss. No one wants to be the first out the door, but if ev­ery­one in a divi­sion or team jointly de­cides not to stay back all hours, no one can be sin­gled out.

That is, of course, eas­ier said than done. Ex­ces­sive over­time is broader than just a work­place cul­ture. Sev­eral aca­demics have pointed to a Chi­nese be­lief in to­tal ded­i­ca­tion, com­bined with pres­sure to con­trib­ute to the na­tion’s ever-in­creas­ing global busi­ness might. Ad­just­ing that mind­set to al­low for a bet­ter work-life bal­ance will be much harder than chang­ing work­ers’ di­ets.

Con­tact the writer at rose­mary_b@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

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