Over the weekend, friends told me of a Singaporean woman who recently died due to overwork.
The woman, May Leong, had even written on her blog about her overwork before she died.
I asked my friends to send me the article … and they did. It’s titled ‘Vitamin M won’t cure my health‘ from the New Paper – a popular English language tabloid in Singapore. It is really worth a read because surely none of us, not even I, would want to literally kill ourselves with work.
Singaporeans like to touch on the notion of ‘death’ too liberally, e.g. “Die die must try”… “You do that to me, you die!”… “If I don’t finish all this work, teacher/parent/boss will kill me!”. There is also the more well-known Western phrase, “Over my dead body.” I’m sure you can think of more.
But when an ordinary worker, like you and me, drops dead after a long period of exhaustive overwork, you can’t help but feel sorry and wonder if something could have been done to prevent it.
If you read to the end of the article, you’d see the most tragic line. The dead woman’s boss didn’t even think she was overworked. Or at least, he didn’t want to admit so in front of her family. Either way, there is a big problem.
If she really wasn’t overworked, how did she end up in this state? I am more inclined to believe that she really was overworked, but did not dare to tell her boss and colleagues because she was afraid of risking a contract termination. [Upon discovering her blog, it seems to point to that conclusion]
And if the boss suspected she was overworked but didn’t do anything about it – knowing the restrictive clauses in her short contract – then it is a typical human reaction of downplaying his wrongdoing at her wake. Just like the man who more recently crashed into the Penang road bus stop, injuring several women. He said, yeah, he sped a little.
And what really chilled me personally? The close comparisons between me and her. This is a wake-up call.
“Just before she died, Ms Leong, who would have been 29 this month, had been working on her laptop for eight straight hours, said her mother.”
Reading Ms Leong’s eulogy on her friend’s blog, I learnt she was born on 18 May, 1978.
That’s exactly a week before me. A good friend of mine was born on the same date as her.
We were born on a Thursday. What did they say about children like us? “Thursday’s child has far to go…” I certainly hope it refers to world travel.
I also work on a laptop for many hours, but due to my training am quite aware of the importance of doing stretching exercises and taking eye breaks. Periodically I get up and walk briskly to see someone else. When I have to use the loo, I purposely walk to the one at the end of the building (unless it’s really urgent!). And if I have to go to another floor, I take the stairs. Even if I’m carrying my laptop.
[Said her friend,] ‘We hardly had time to chat on the Internet since she started this job about two months ago.’
I stopped chatting online since April for the same reasons. But I might go back to phone calls and actually meeting up face to face with friends – when I stop falling ill, of course.
What I face everyday … is having more than 100 e-mails per day…
‘Partners … practically ‘screaming’ to be served first, getting their orders delivered ASAP, wanting everything, complaining of everything… ‘I’ve got to work at home during non-working hours including weekends, just doing my best to clear my work.’
I think some of us have experienced this too, albeit on a lesser scale. Fortunately for me, nobody screams. Sometimes I feel bad, but gotta tell myself this is as much as I can do, at this quality and with this amount of time. I have to tell myself that more often.
My heart goes out to Ms Leong’s mother, who is now all alone, possibly feeling devastated and wondering how this could all have been avoided. In the US, there’d be lawsuits by now, but that isn’t always the Singapore way.
At the very least, can we all learn something from Ms Leong’s example, so we and our families don’t end up in the same situation?