Overworked? 24-Year-Old Ogilvy China Staffer Dies After Heart Attack at Desk

Cause of Heart Attack Unknown But Death Raises Issue of Overwork in China

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A screenshot of Gabriel Li, taken from his Sina Weibo account.
A screenshot of Gabriel Li, taken from his Sina Weibo account.

A 24-year-old Ogilvy PR employee in Beijing has died after suffering a heart attack while at his desk. Ogilvy China confirmed the young man, Gabriel Li, passed away suddenly, but local media reports that followed -- saying his death was caused by overwork -- have not been substantiated.

According to a Beijing Times newspaper's account, Mr. Li let out a yell and collapsed while working in the office Monday evening. He was taken to a hospital, where he died.

Mr. Li was a junior staffer at the WPP-owned agency, part of a team that serviced a technology client.

The agency posted a message about his death on its Sina Weibo microblog. "We've lost a young partner forever due to a sudden illness," it said. "This Beijing PR colleague was admired by his colleagues and clients for his professional skills and team spirit. Our hearts are broken by this sudden tragedy, just hope that he's resting in peace in another world. Hope all of our partners will join us in saying a prayer for him, and light a candle to warm his path to heaven."

Ogilvy China had no further comment beyond its social media message and the information released to the Beijing Times.

In short order, news reports began racking up reporting that Mr. Li's fate was due to work stress. Many of them linked to a Yangtze Evening News story that cited unnamed sources as saying that Mr. Li died after working overtime for one month straight.

The cause of the heart attack has not been released. The Beijing Times story quoted Mr. Li's supervisor, Selina Teng, as saying that he had not been feeling well recently and returned to work Monday after taking a week off. Previous medical exams were normal. At the time of the heart attack, Mr. Li was waiting for a cousin to arrive in Beijing to accompany him to additional tests, Ms. Teng was cited as saying.

Although it was not clear whether long hours played a role, overtime is routine for white-collar workers in China. Culturally, there are few boundaries between work and personal life. Punishing work hours are common in China's marketing industry, with its notoriously demanding clients.

It's not the first time a young person's death has been linked to their career; in 2011, the Shanghaiist blog speculated that a 25-year-old female auditor working for PricewaterhouseCoopers in Shanghai was worked to death.

This week, the Financial Times wrote about hardworking Chinese employees, quoting a recruiting executive as saying that some local Chinese companies are offering lifestyle concessions to keep employees happy. But those concessions could hardly be called generous, as the companies are allowing employees to disconnect from work emails and phone calls for two or three days -- per year.

On his Sina Weibo microblog, Mr. Li frequently shared music and photos, including those of his new apartment and dinners with friends. On Tuesday, one day after his death, someone posted a photo showing Mr. Li giving a salute, and the message: "Good-bye to those I love. Good-bye world."

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