News of Pinduoduo employee’s sudden death after apparent excessive overtime goes viral
Published: Jan 04, 2021 01:33 PM

Photo taken on July 17, 2020 shows an office of online marketplace Pinduoduo in east China's Shanghai. Shanghai's thriving e-commerce platforms are playing increasingly vital roles in eliminating poverty and improving people's quality of lives. (Xinhua/Fang Zhe)

The overtime culture in Chinese internet companies has become more extreme in recent years, as an employee of one of China's largest e-commerce platforms who worked in the agricultural products division suddenly died, with excessive overtime being seen by Chinese netizens as a major cause. 

A screenshot said a 23-year-old staffer, who reportedly worked at Chinese e-commerce platform Pinduoduo and suddenly died, went viral on Chinese Twitter-like social media Sina Weibo on Monday with the news quickly reaching the top of Weibo's trending topics.

According to the screenshot, the person worked at a grocery purchasing platform for Pinduoduo in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. She died suddenly on the way home after working overtime until 1 am before the New Year's Day. 

Pinduoduo confirmed to the Global Times on Monday afternoon that the employee surnamed Zhang suddenly fainted at 1:30 am on December 29 and died in a hospital after six hours of treatment. The body was cremated on Sunday. 

The death of the woman triggered another round of hot discussion on the culture of overtime in internet companies.

Netizen "DragonforG" - surnamed Zeng - told the Global Times that overtime in her husband's office is very common. "It's lucky that most of the employees in my husband's office are relatively young. No one got sick due to working overtime," said Zeng.

An operation maintenance employee surnamed Zhao told the Global Times that the official working time for him is eight hours per day, but he actually has to work 12 hours per day and six days a week, and he does not get extra pay. 

The culture of overtime is so prevalent in Chinese internet companies that there is a term for it: "996" - referring to an unofficial but popular work schedule from 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week, which usually leads to about 70 working hours a week.

It's been reported that a timer is put over the toilet in Kuaishou, a short video-sharing platform, to remind employees to save time.

Internet industry expert Liu Dingding told the Global Times that the "996" concept has been around for a long time and working overtime is a common practice among Chinese internet companies. 

"The main reason is fierce competition among companies. If an internet company ends the overtime working mode, it will be overtaken by other companies very soon," said the expert. 

As overtime hours have become even longer, many have started using the term 007, which means working 24 hours seven days per week, a market observer told the Global Times on Monday. 

It is quite common to see overwork in internet companies, an anonymous veteran of an e-commerce company told the Global Times on Monday. He said it is a feature of the industry, making it hard for staff to rest. When a company launches promotions, staffers have no choice but to work more hours, he said. There are lots of start-ups, which makes the overtime work culture fiercer, he added. 

The Shanghai labor security department vowed to start an investigation into Pinduoduo due to the sudden death of the employee surnamed Zhang, according to media reports. The investigation will focus on the company's employment contracts and employee working hours. 

Pinduoduo was founded in 2015 and listed on NASDAQ in 2018. Its founder Huang Zheng ranked No.7 on the 2020 Forbes China Rich List with a personal worth of more than 200 billion yuan ($30.88 billion), reflecting the fast development of the company.