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China’s ambitious young talent ‘risking health to climb career ladder’

Ambitious young executives in China could be putting their health at risk through overwork to climb the corporate ladder, a director at an agency on the mainland has said.

The tragic loss of 24 year-old Ogilvy PR Beijing executive Li Yuan to a heart attack last Tuesday – believed to be stress induced – has brought into focus the importance of work-life balance in what a media agency boss calls “the most demanding market in the world”.

“Junior people with drive are putting themselves at risk to climb the career ladder in China,” an executive told Mumbrella under the condition of anonymity.

“Eager to please” young executives need to be careful to avoid becoming “a victim of the system” in which over-demanding clients, an intense work culture, peer pressure and their own personal ambition puts them under too much strain, he said.

Li had being working late for a month, not leaving the office until 11pm most nights, according to a report in the Yangzi Evening News – though this has not been confirmed by his employer. Ogilvy and WPP did not comment.

The tragedy should force agencies in China to re-evaluate how they manage their young staff, the executive said.

But it is not just young workers who are feeling the pressure in China, a media agency boss told Mumbrella.

“A decent work life balance in agencies in China is a challenge, particularly so for senior people,” he said. “Due to rapid market growth there are many opportunities for younger people to job hop. This means that senior, experienced people have to overcompensate and suffer high workloads due to lack of a stable low to mid management base in agencies.”

Agency bosses regularly clock up 70-80 hour working weeks, he said. “But that’s China and everyone who works here accepts it.”

The problem is not exclusive to agencies, he added.

“Many clients also face extreme pressure due to market complexities, highly aggressive financial targets and growth expectations,” he said.

The trade-off is the lure of a lucrative pay packet.

“Salaries for agencies and clients – especially for senior people – tend to be extremely high. And anyone who works in China knows that it is the most demanding, fastest growing and most exciting market in the world. I guess it doesn’t attract people who are looking for the ideal work like balance,” he said.

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