A 25-year-old auditor working for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in Shanghai complained of flu-like symptoms on March 31, and ten days later she was dead. The event has sparked enormous controversy online — news of her death has been forwarded on Sina Weibo more than 15,000 times, and many are speculating that she was worked to death. We’re hearing conflicting reports about the nature of her illness from the media, PwC employees, and PwC themselves. Here’s everything we know so far. From the PwC press release:
It is with tremendous sadness to report that Angela Pan, a first year assurance associate who joined the PwC China firm in Shanghai in October 2010, passed away after contracting viral encephalitis. Angela contracted a fever and took sick leave on 31 March 2011. She was then treated at the Fifth People’s Hospital and subsequently transferred to Huashan Hospital on 6 April 2011 after her conditioned worsened when she fell into a coma. Medical efforts failed to combat the acute disease and Angela passed away on the evening of 10 April 2011.
This is significantly different from Shanghai Daily’s report, which quotes a doctor speculating that Pan potentially died of cerebral meningitis, saying “it’s reasonable to conclude that overwork led to a weakened immune system, which makes her more vulnerable to infections.” They go on to quote friends saying Pan often worked 120 hour weeks, clearly suggesting she was overworked. But PwC denied this:
A PwC Shanghai official denied in an interview with a local TV station yesterday that Pan’s death was caused by work fatigue.
The official said the firm has sent a team to console Pan’s family and would offer assistance with funeral arrangements if necessary. The company will also hire psychologists to counsel employees grieving over Pan’s death, the official said.
Global Times, on the other hand, correctly reported the infection was viral, and said that Pan “ignored the illness until a fever surged.”
So was she really worked to death? Maybe, but the focus shouldn’t necessarily be on the employer. We talked with somebody who works for PwC, and their employees receive paid sick leave. Salaries for new recruits start at 5,000RMB per month, which is quite high in Chinese standards.
The emphasis of the reaction online doesn’t really seem directed at the employer either. Most are simply shocked by such a tragic and wasteful loss of young talent, and view it as a warning to ambitious white collar workers everywhere.
The whole thing is incredibly sad. We’ll leave you with an extremely eery entry Shanghai Daily translated from her microblog account, where she expresses her feelings concerning a very similar death earlier this year:
“I can accept overtime. I can also accept out-of-town business trips. But on learning a young worker died from fatigue at kp (KPMG), I feel something has broken my bottom line to endure,” she wrote.