Stories by CHRISTINE CHEAH, VIVIENNE WONG and JAYDEE LOK
That was the last tweet by Indonesian copywriter, Mita Diran, 27, before she collapsed, slipped into a coma and passed away the following day.
Although the official cause of death is still unknown, many believe her death was caused by a lethal combination of working 30 hours straight and an excessive consumption of energy drinks.
Mita’s case, sadly, is but one of several “worked-to-death” cases that have made headlines around the world in the past few years (read sidebar). Many of these stories have gone viral on social media, perhaps an indicator of just how many young people relate with them.
A 2011 survey by global workplace provider Regus showed that 15% of Malaysians work over 11 hours a day, compared to the global average of 10%. To put that in perspective, the Employment Act states that the maximum number of hours an employee should work is 10 a day (eight hours a day is the standard), and 48 hours a week (read infographic on page 3).
‘Regular’ working hours
As many young people can attest to, almost all jobs these days will require you to work beyond the hours laid out in the Employment Act.
A 22-year-old audit associate, who declined to be named, said he has worked over 24 hours straight. Though he’s still young, he doesn’t see the situation improving any time soon – his seniors have often complained about falling sick because they don’t get enough sleep or exercise.
The problem, he believes, is with modern working culture in Malaysia.
“Everyone is doing it (over-working), so you don’t want to be seen as lazy. There are also more graduates now, so you feel the need to perform better.
“People now are more ambitious, so when it comes to moving up in life, they feel it’s worth it to over-work,” he said.
Barista Azlan Ariff Azman, 23, said employers who over-work their staff will inevitably find their businesses being affected, something he sees in his own job.
“I no longer have the drive and motivation for work. I easily get frustrated, and it’s hard to take care of myself because I’d have to skip meals at work, and I’ve been smoking a lot more,” said Azlan, who once got into a fight with a customer, which he said is “normal” when someone so burned-out deals with difficult people.
For others, like a 22-year-old pharmacist who once worked 29 hours straight, being over-worked could have more serious consequences.
“Tiny mistakes like saying the wrong thing while dispensing, or dispensing the wrong medication altogether, could have a detrimental effect on the patient,” she said, adding that being over-worked isn’t just about the hours you work, but also your ability to perform.
“I think I’m over-worked because I can’t function optimally,” she said. “Even my drive home seems dangerous because I can’t focus anymore.”
After Mita’s case had gone viral, netizens from the advertising industry flooded social media with the hashtag “#AgencyLife”. Previously used ironically to describe the industry’s hectic nature, the hashtag now serves as a poignant reminder.
Mita herself had once tweeted: “So it’s 2AM, Friday night and I’m at the office, nibbling on junk food with 9 other creatives. I’m actually okay with this. #AgencyLife.”
However, two advertising account executives, Yong Li May and Joanne Lie, both 23, said people in the industry themselves have to learn to avoid getting sucked into an unhealthy working culture.
“Time management is very crucial in order to have a balanced work and social life. And don’t keep everything to yourself and drown,” said Yong, adding that the occasional all-nighter is inevitable.
Despite having worked over 24 hours straight, Lie believes it is possible to have a good work-life balance in the industry, where many people work for “pride and passion”.
She said: “My method is to only do work in the office, which explains why I always work late on weekdays. But when I’m home, I don’t think about work anymore. Work can never be over, so it’s a matter of knowing your priorities.”