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China is ditching overtime work culture; can it save exhausted young office workers?

The debate around China’s toxic overtime work culture resurfaced recently after the deaths of 3 employees within the first two months of 2022. One of the employees was from Bilibili (China’s equivalent to YouTube) with the tragic incident happening during Chinese New Year, and the most recent is from ByteDance (parent company of the viral short video app TikTok) on 23 February.

All three were born post-90s and died of sudden cardiac death with overtime work allegedly to blame. Bilibili is still in hot water following the death of its employee on 4 February. The 25-year-old was responsible for content review for the video-sharing platform and died whilst on duty. The company denied the allegation that working during the holiday was the cause of the tragedy. In the meantime, it announced on 8 February that the company would scale up its recruitment of content reviewers this year by 1,000 in the hope to spread the workload.

Two weeks later, on 15 February, a 27-year-old designer for a construction design company in Shanghai was reported to have died in his rental home, which has fuelled the already intensified online sentiment.

There was a public outpouring of anger following the response by the employer who tends to ‘pass the buck’, saying the incident “did not take place in work time, nor at the workplace, and there is no evidence showing him working overtime”.


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