Chinese white collar burnout (2)

17:02, September 27, 2010      

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Mid-career professionals caught up in the rat race are seeking help from life coaches, therapists and psychiatrists. (Tang Yanjun / China News Service)

The iron rice bowl is no more.

Young professionals in China also have to face issues on marriage, family, rising property prices and long commutes to work - problems all thrown up by rapid urbanization and equally rapid social changes.

Thirty percent of the 100,000-client base that Li's company has across China complain about work-related stress and burnout. It is an unusually high rate, given that the same comparative segment in the US is only around 6 percent.

The calls come from low- and mid-level management, the people usually sandwiched between senior officers who give orders and their subordinates, whom they have to coax into productivity.

They have to deal with long working hours, low job satisfaction, little control over their role at work and even less support from senior management.

Yan observes that professionals such as teachers, nurses, lawyers and journalists experience the highest burnout rates.

"My clients include some of the best lawyers and journalists in Shanghai, who tell me they simply want to leave everything behind to travel the world," he says.

Even lawyers, normally trained to be rational and in self-control, are showing visible cracks. More are going into therapy.

Small-town scholars hitting the big time in major cities are also likely to suffer more stress. For one, they have to work harder to overcome the prejudices of locality. And in a strange city, they are often without a familiar support network.

Li Xu's company found that employees from other provinces are more likely to call the EAP hotline.

While local managers may complain about personal issues like love, marriage and family encroaching on their performances at work, the out-of-towners mostly speak of coping with pressures at the work place.

Yang Zhiying, a professor of psychology and a therapist from Capital Normal University, believes that a society changing at breakneck speed will put pressure on white-collar workers, although the burnout rate and pressure levels will depend on the resilience of individual character. It also depends on how fast people adapt to changes.

She believes that the pressure has grown dramatically with the evolution of the workplace culture. Thirty years ago, she recalls, it was "everybody eating from the same big pot" - a euphemism for equal treatment of all in the same enterprise regardless of performance. In those days, few were under pressure to stand out.

It is a different era these days when the way up means investing extra effort and putting yourself forward. Sometimes, it's a matter of the Peter Principle.

"People burn out when they are given tasks beyond their capabilities," Yang notes.

The '80s generation

Pan Jidong has another theory. A certified EPA lecturer, Pan believes it is because they fail to make peace with themselves.

He claims that employees born during and after 1980s, the products of China's one-child policy, are generally more pampered by parents and grandparents.

They are the ones who are more likely to suffer burnout.

That is because they cannot reconcile the treatment at home with the treatment at work and when success is not theirs, they feel thwarted.

The evolving social and employment scene also opens up too many options. This may lead to an indecisiveness that may ultimately cost these young executives the competitive edge.

Pan recalled that just a decade ago when he was a senior manager at a State-owned company in Shanghai, young people appreciated their jobs more.

"They were worried, but also full of expectations," he says.

Pan lectures to help young entrants to the market realize their full potential and face the reality of knowing that success takes hard work, something that cannot be taken for granted, and does not happen overnight.

Zheng Huahui, general manager of Beijing EAP Consulting, says companies are increasingly aware of work wellness in the wake of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, the recent serial suicides at the Foxconn factory and a government push for better mental health facilities for employees.

He says there is a danger period for employees who have worked between 6 to 18 months - when the novelty of the new job has worn off and the responsibilities start piling up.

By Cao Li Source: China Daily
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