Saturday, April 16, 2011

25-year-old Shanghai PricewaterhouseCoopers employee worked to death?

Today when I was talking with a friend, she mentioned to me a shocking story about how a 25 year old PWC China employee died from overexhaustion.

I, myself, couldnt' believe it at first, and then I was like WTF? How could that happen? And then I was like, damn, that very much could happen to someone that works 120 hour work weeks.

This event, indeed has happened. I'll give a brief summary of the story.

Pan Jie, a 25 year old assurance associate joined the firm last October, and then went on to take a sick leave on March 31st, where she sadly, passed away 10 days later.

It was mentioned that Pan would frequently work long hours during busy season (120 hour workweeks!) since January, and her work got worse in March where Pan didn't get off work until 2 or 3 am in the morning. Her mom even had her taxi receipts that showed that they were over 1 a.m. and the latest one on 3:10 a.m.

Pan even requested for sick leave on March 25th, but her request wasn't approved until March 31st where her fever got very bad.

This story has sparked online controversy, as Pan even tweeted frequently about her job experiences, the late hours, and the craving for sleep.

Its something that we should all be concerned as part of the accounting community.

I was pretty pissed off when I heard PWC denies any wrongdoing, or the possibility of death from overwork. If I were the parent, I would want murder on the partner.

We all know how bad Busy season can be, and the insane time pressures. We know people have gotten sick from busy season and have endured insane pressure from the firm and colleageues in getting work done which has just added to our bad health.

It is not healthy, nor should be expected of any employee to work such late hours 1-3 a.m. Getting sleep for less than 5 hours a day is not something anyone can sustain, much less over a long period of time.

I really think that when events like these happen, Big firms need to take more responsibility in taking care of their workers. But the way the corporate structure is set up at Big 4, if your not working till midnight during busy season, your not a "good enough" worker.

As to people who question why didn't she just quit. I'm sure it has something to do with the fact that China has a tough enough work culture which supports 12 hour days, the high 5,000 RMB salary, and the guilt and shame she would suffer from parents and colleagues if she quit.

Even in Toronto, I always question why people in Big 4 don't quit when they really feel like they can't do it anymore. At the end of the day, health > CA.

The Accountant

Link to the Story


  1. ^ Basically all I can say is they can't cut it!!

  2. Gah, awful. One thing to keep in mind, which one of our partners always says - "We're not saving lives here."

    We're not ER doctors, the last hope for our client's survival. We're auditors and tax accountants, and if we have so much work that our staff can't get to sleep, well, there's another firm out there that will take the work, or there are more staffers out there that we could hire.

  3. If you hire more staffers it would cut into the profits of the partners. Just think about it. If you were a partner would you want to hire a few extra people without a resulting increasing revenue? No you wouldn't, the extra hours you put is in investment for your CA designation. This is a life long achievement. A few years of hard sweat won't hurt.

  4. I agree,

    You knew about the long hours before getting into the field. You can always get a job at McDonalds they are ALWAYS hiring!

  5. The only reason they can get away with it is because the firms (especially the big 4) are filled with super keen students that would do anything to get ahead. I don't like this whole culture of kill yourself and live with all this BS now and you'll get your dream life later on. It's likely not going to happen as you imagined it, and people get really dissapointed, can't you tell by the tone of this blog? Which other industry does this to students?

    I feel so sorry for this girl, she's probably really smart and hard working, she was sick and probably just didn't want to let everyone on her team down, and no one was there to tell her it was ok to go home and look after herself even when she's that sick. I know everyone has good intentions and would never have let her work if they knew this was going to happen, but it did and the culture of keeness and excessive working promoted it, this is really destructive.

    Seriously everyone, chill. Life shouldn't be a rat race to the top, even if you win you lose cuz you're a rat in someone else's maze. Yes a lot of people are rich from doing it, and they probably deserve if fully, but there's also others that are rich, happy, AND enjoyed themselves along the way. Enjoy yourself and the best time of your life, take yourself less seriously, you will find that you get a lot luckier and things become easier to achieve (relative to your inputs ofcourse).

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