Working Culture and Norms in Spain Essay
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This research paper will discuss the cultural norms and struggles within Spanish working culture while comparing and contrasting norms in America focusing on how Spanish working culture creates hurdles for its people making it difficult for Spaniards to thrive and live comfortably. The working culture in Spain to many is considered a “perfect storm”. According to El País it’s generally seen that Spanish workers tend to sleep fewer hours and work longer hours than their European counterparts, however, they are less productive.
Spanish working culture fails to attract oversees prospects and it is often seen that many educated Spaniards leave the country to find better work opportunities. The country takes care of its people in terms of weather, healthcare, education etc. but fails in working practices. It seems that overall Spanish people lack a sense of professionalism in their work in just about every profession whether it be a taxi driver, civil servant, or waitress (Barbería). The general consensus is that while Spain is a great place to live, it’s not a great place to work.
Working culture has additionally traveled into aspects of peoples at-home lifestyle and has begun to affect household structure. When both parents working full-time is coupled with the lack of childcare facilities in Spain there is an issue with the inability of families to care for their children during the week. Due to this trend grandparents increasingly play a large role in supporting Spanish families who have limited recourses (“Work-Life Balance”). Due to these imbalances the government has stepped in to search for new ways to mend the issues. However, it is debated whether or not it is in fact necessary to bring about a legitimate change in cultural attitudes. Overall, it is seen that the working environment of Spain tends to reflect the attitude of the Spanish people, that is it is: polite, lax, and sometimes a bit messy or chaotic. Additionally, since the economic crisis of 2008 many Spanish workers and families cannot afford to take time off and reduce their income (“Work-Life Balance”). InterNations reflects that the recession hit Spain hard. In 2007 the unemployment rate rose to 8% and in 2013 it hit a peak of almost 27%. Thankfully the unemployment rate has decreased by 15.28% in the second quarter of 2018. The future of Spanish working culture and norms untimely rests in the hands of the people and government.
There is a hierarchical trend in Spanish business culture. Most companies are hierarchically structured; however, Spain is a fast-changing country that overall demands an open and flexible work force (“Work Culture in Spain”). According to Hierarchy Structure the Spanish business hierarchy is a wonderful example of labor mobility as well as general etiquette. We see a sort of “hierarchical tree” in the system. At the top begins there are Managing directors and the tree moves descending to the board of directors, senior managers, managers, executives, and staff at the bottom of the tree. Throughout the Spanish economy as a whole individualism is predominant especially in the business structure hierarchy. Teamwork is not as appreciated and carries less importance in Spanish business culture. This is in contrast to the United States where it’s important to emphasize your ability and proficiency to work with others and have good teamworking skills when applying for a job. Although, as previously mentioned since the fast pace of Spanish culture and the need for a new market this old mindset is beginning to change quickly. This need for changes within Spanish society has created change in an organizational structure as it moves away from hierarchical structure and closer to a bureaucratic organization (“Business Culture in Spain”).
Diving further into this idea of a hierocracy it is seen that women in business in Spain experience some discrimination within Spanish working culture. There are fewer women than men in top positions. According to Expatica only 37% of managerial positions in Spain are held by women. This number is just slightly above the EU average but regardless its below Spain’s quota of 40% by 2015. Women’s hourly earnings are seen to be up to 12.7% lower than men’s according to a 2017 study. Very recently, in March of 2019, a new decree was passed in attempt to reduce the pay gap and promote equality between men and women within business. In this article, Gómez explains that the decree includes the equalization of paternity leave with maternity leave and demands Spanish businesses complete a gender audit on average salaries of male and female employees. In the United States discrepancies in pay are seen as well with strides to mend the difference in progress. While this is a step in the right direction for Spain the decree will take time to fall into place and start having positive constant impact on Spanish working culture.
Stepping away from logistics and into culture and environmental aspects, women face other challenges within the workplace in regard to sexual discrimination. Sexual discrimination has been strong historically throughout Spain as women are treated poorly in various aspects of everyday life, even at home. Women tend to get a lot of attention in the office from their male counterparts. It is commonplace to hear men commenting on or complimenting the appearance of their female coworkers. In America, even subtle remarks may be considered sexual harassment in the workplace and such blatant comments would not be tolerated and could be grounds for a severe punishment. Spain has implemented anti-discrimination laws which cover forms of discrimination such as race, age, and health. While there is mention of sexual discrimination it is not strongly enforced as women may still be objectified by their male counterparts more often than not. Due to the historical trend of women struggling to be treated equally in every aspect of life it is hard to imagine a strong push for change in their business life.
To best understand the working environment as a whole, it’s important to consider how employees interact with one another within the workplace. There are many factors that contribute to the overall work environment in Spain. According to Barbería in El País the professional and personal aspects of work are hardly separated in the workplace. The same article touches on how Spaniards consider their goals in the workplace. A common theme within the workplace is the lack of clear goals, in addition to the emphasis on deadlines and the difficultly of feeling like one’s boss is relatable in any sense. The relationship between bosses and employees seems to be a complex one as bosses are in reality quite average even though they behave as though they are godlike, however, they are unable to explain themselves and what they’re asking for (Barbería). The work environment seems to come across as somewhat lax (especially in comparison to other countries) as most Spaniards would admit that they “spend more time chatting with colleagues about non-work-related matters or answering personal emails than their counterparts in other countries” (Barbería). A large aspect of Spanish working culture is the Spanish people’s belief that it is important to get to know their peers better. However, these interactions don’t get to a point of being comfortable enough where it would be normal to invite business friends to your home as a café or restaurant is preferred. Furthermore, when considering a lunch break or business dinner, there is certain etiquette to be considered (“Business Culture in Spain”).
A large aspect of Spanish working culture is how Spaniards approach meals in a professional sense. Lunch and dinner are an important part of the business culture in Spain and siestas have been a debated topic for quite some time. The siesta is a mid-afternoon break that can last around three hours. Most people may go home for lunch and spend time with their families or relax during this extended break. Although, according to Expactica, siestas don’t exist in Spain, however, lunch breaks may be around two hours and generally end around 2:30/3 PM. However, other sources explain that while siestas are on the decline in larger cities, they are still a major part of the working day in Spain (“Work-Life Balance”). While the legitimacy of a siesta is debated across sources, it is generally agreed upon that this Spanish tradition of unrealistically long lunches and midday breaks is being challenged in the more recent years (“Work-Life Balance”). Lunch is an integral part of the Spanish work culture and the working day in general. The idea of the three-hour lunch break is changing, and lunches tend to be shortened so employees can finish earlier. These long lunches can be difficult for working parents who may have to pick up their kids in the middle of the day at 4 or 5 PM. In this sense the three-hour break is shaved down to a two-hour break where employees typically retire to a restaurant to enjoy their time off. This time is seen as a chance for employees to socialize and wind down and many Spaniards would consider it equivalent to an American lunch break.
Meals and snacks are important in Spanish culture and its often seen that another very typical aspect of Spanish working culture is coffee breaks. Spanish people love their coffee. It may be seen that employees have two or three short coffee breaks a day and a longer lunch. Its typically for Spaniards to have one coffee break earlier in the morning and another coffee break after lunch to break up their day and give them energy throughout the long work day. These coffee breaks are the norm and a part of the work routine.
When considering extended time off holidays in Spain are more or less similar to what is seen around the globe. Employees typically get at least 30 days of annual paid leave in addition to time off for the 14 paid public holidays each year (two of which vary depending on local municipality). This policy of time off is much more relaxed than American holiday as Spaniards see more paid time off. For Spaniards, holidays are usually taken in the months of July, August, or September as these months are seen to be slower for business with shorter hours.
A typical Spanish work day is also consistent with other countries more or less. The day tends to begin around 8:30/9:00 AM to around 1:30/3:00 PM and then picks up again from 4:30/5:00 PM ending at around 8:00 PM (“Work-Life Balance”). While the standard working week hours in Spain vary depending on the job it is generally 40 hours a week. Additionally, the law creates a minimum of 12 hours of rest between working days explaining that employees cannot legally work more than 80 hours of overtime in a year unless there is some type of agreement made within the workplace. While the concept of working from home is increasingly popular around the world, and especially in America, it is quite alien in Spain. A study in The Local found that 92% of Spaniards never work from home. These long work days restricted to office environments become a place in which employees can create relationships with coworkers and learn to thrive in a business environment.
Negotiations and business meetings in Spain have a specific format that follows Spanish cultural norms. This structure and understanding of how business is done in Spain is crucial to know especially for an outsider coming into a Spanish work environment. According to Expactica the negotiation process for Spanish business is on the longer side. To begin, there must be a buildup of the personal relationship and trust before negotiations. It is important to be punctual to meetings but not a-typical to wait 15-20 minutes for your peers to arrive as meetings generally start and finish late (“Business Culture in Spain”). Meetings aren’t typically done over the phone even though an over the phone meeting would be typical in a country such as America. Rather, meetings and relationships are built through lunch and social interactions. It is common to shake hands with one’s business partner and not uncommon for women and men to kiss each other on both cheeks as typically done. It is important, since these meetings are done in person to dress in neat and professional clothing as well. It is very a-typical to jump into negotiations immediately as business colleagues want a chance to feel comfortable before speaking business. Final decisions may take some time and are made by the most senior managers or in a verbal agreement of formal contract that is drawn up for approval. As previously mentioned, since the hierarchy is vertical important decisions are made from the top down. Meetings are more so for giving instructions and exchanging ideas and decisions are made later on (“Work Culture in Spain”).
Whether you’re in a meeting or in the office it’s important to dress accordingly. Being properly dressed is of great importance for Spanish people. Spaniards put great time and effort into their appearance and in business settings the dress code is typically classic, conventional, and professional. Men may wear dark suits and women may wear suits too either with skirts or trousers. Bare legs are allowed in the summertime and women may wear more makeup than seen in northern countries, however, it is never flashy and often more modestly done (“Work Culture in Spain”).
The Spanish people have taken it upon themselves to create changes within their own system. There are unions in Spain, however, membership is not obligatory. Strikes among airport workers are most common, often happening on a regular basis. However, there are fewer strikes now than there were 10 years ago. According to “Expat Focus” strikes tend to happen as a “result of a lack of agreement when negotiating a collective bargaining agreement although strikes also take place when the terms of an old agreement are disputed”. Most companies have a protocol for handling concerns of their employees and there are various mediation bodies readily available for those who wish to resolve a dispute without industrial action (“Expat Focus”).
Another struggle within Spanish working culture is the unemployment rate. The issue begins with cultural issues that spring from people living with their parents until their 30’s or sometimes 40’s creating less drive and need to make money on their own. Due to this lack of motivation the youth unemployment rate is very high despite the status of the economy. While companies have seen an economic boost, it is not being passed down to their employees. Salaries are low or non-existent with unpaid internships despite already high and continually rising cost of living. According to Spain Insider young people have to fear short term contracts or unpaid internships early on as they struggle to understand and navigate the corporate environment. The term “enchufe” refers to having significant professional connections.
A lot of jobs are given through enchufes from parents, friends, or other family members. In the United States while connections help you excel faster and with ease there is definitely an ability to excel on your own with hard work and drive. However, throughout Spain many young people have to worry about their connections and ability to grow professionally, as without an enchufe, it can be nearly impossible to excel reasonably.
Overall, it rings true that Spain is a great place to live but a difficult place to work and live comfortably. The hierarchical structure makes it difficult for mobility. Additionally, women continue to struggle in many regards in terms of pay and sexual discrimination. The working norms of meals can be seen positively or negatively depending on outstanding circumstances such as family life and responsibilities outside the workplace. Furthermore, in relation to hours, Jones explained how Spain is one of the most inflexible countries in the EU when it comes to aspects such as working hours. She goes on to explain how these hours have negative repercussions on their home and family lives and affect their lives on a larger scale. There are positive aspects to consider with the great relationships formed in the workplace, however, this can also shed a negative light as the work environment is extremely lax and doesn’t lend well to motivating employees. In my opinion one of the most notable struggles is the cultural aspects that support the high unemployment rate. The pressure on the need for “enchufes” creates stress on young people and may deter them from thinking they have a chance to succeed professionally without connections. Overall, I believe that the norms of Spanish working culture create instability and are generally inefficient, creating various problems for Spanish people not only professionally but moving into home life as well.
- Barbería, José Luis. “Spain – A Great Place to Live, a Terrible Place to Work?” EL PAÍS, Síguenos En Síguenos En Twitter Síguenos En Facebook Síguenos En Instagram, 20 Oct. 2015, elpais.com/elpais/2014/12/17/inenglish/1418816737_691083.html.
- “Business Culture in Spain” Expatica, 19 Feb. 2019, www.expatica.com/es/employment/employment-basics/business-culture-102512/.
- “Expat Focus.” Spain – Business and Workplace Culture | ExpatFocus.com, www.expatfocus.com/expatriate-spain-business-culture.
- Gómez, Manuel V. “Spanish Cabinet Cracks down on Gender Discrimination in the Workplace.” EL PAÍS, Ediciones EL PAÍS S.L., 4 Mar. 2019, elpais.com/elpais/2019/03/04/inenglish/1551692454_012972.html.
- Jones, Jessica. “Spain Has Most Inflexible Working Conditions in the European Union.” The Local, The Local, 2 Dec. 2015, www.thelocal.es/20151202/spain-has-most-inflexible-working-conditions-in-europe.
- “Spain Business Culture Hierarchy.” Hierarchy Structure, 4 Dec. 2017, www.hierarchystructure.com/spain-business-hierarchy/.
- “Work Culture in Spain.” CareerProfessor.works, 26 Apr. 2018, careerprofessor.works/work-culture-spain/.
- “Work Culture in Spain: The Truth about Working in Spain.” Spain Insider, 21 June 2018, spaininsider.blog/2018/07/06/work-culture-in-spain-the-truth-about-working-in-spain/.
- “Working in Spain.” InterNations, www.internations.org/spain-expats/guide/working-in-spain-15498.
- “Work-Life Balance.” Business Culture, businessculture.org/southern-europe/business-culture-in-spain/work-life-balance-in-spain/.