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Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

The clash of Spain’s culture and business

Por: | 03 de octubre de 2013

Siesta
Newcomers to Spain are often confronted by the leisurely way of Spanish life, and if expatriate weblogs were any indicator, Spain’s business culture would be characterised by siestas and slowness. Yet this Spanish stereotype belies a hard-working culture long established in Spain’s major cities and large companies. But as the transition is not yet consistent across the country, smaller companies still struggle to operate in a country where culture clashes with modernised work schedules.

New business owner Santiago Revert experienced this clash when he received a sizeable order from Germany just as Spain’s summer slowdown was starting to hit. He was less than ecstatic when he couldn’t find a logistics company to deliver the order on time. Many were closed for the summer.

Spain’s businesses are particularly affected during July and August when many small companies either shut down, have reduced staff or shorten work hours to finish at 3pm, more so in rural areas and civil services. “For us it’s an inconvenience because the other countries keep working,” Mr Revert said. “In some industries, they even tell you to pick up small orders yourself.”

Mr Revert became a joint business owner of furniture exporter Imoa last year. Yet even though his company has struggled to attract sales in Spain’s recessed economy, Mr Revert also closed for two weeks this August because his clients were doing the same. “We stayed open last year but we couldn’t do our normal activity because the decision-makers were not there. We would not be more successful if we stayed open unless our clients did the same. But for that everybody would have to get into the same philosophy,” he said.

The continued practice of closing for summer holidays stands against Spain’s economic contraction of 1.6 per cent in the second quarter, and one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe at 26.6 per cent. Mr Revert said, however, that crises and globalisation were forcing Spain’s market to slowly change.

“A lot of companies aren’t closing any more during August because they’re scared they won’t be around in September. But in the near future it will change more because the world is changing and it’s just not effective to be closed for even two weeks,” he said.

British expatriate Navinya Lee was also surprised when she took a job with an event management company in Madrid and found the company did not even have a schedule to monitor employee holidays. “There was such a large loss of time due to everyone taking holidays in the same months. Summer had a major impact as it seemed that the whole country came to a stand still, and you get a lot of 'out of office' replies. With everyone away, the lack of sales in those months affected our targets.”

Ms Lee said in her native country she was used to taking holidays throughout the year so work life could continue as usual. “The summer months should be no different to the other 10 months of the year. The world does not stop because it’s summer,” she said.

Tabarca Technologies CEO Jose Luis Cayuela, however, describes a work culture in stark contrast to the one often associated with the Spanish stereotype of extended lunch breaks, siestas, late starts, and long vacations. Siestas, he said, disappeared from his workplace more than 20 years ago, and his vacations were far from the ‘sacred Spanish summer’.

“Ten years ago I used to plan my vacation time to spend a full three or four weeks with my family at the beach. Now even my holiday time is split between working from 7am to 11am each morning and spending time with my family in the afternoon.”

“Even then, I’m always available through this,” said Mr Cayuela, waving his telephone.

Additionally, he said the practice of long lunches was relative to a workday of more than 10 to 12 hours. “I start early and finish just before dinner – Spanish time [9–10pm] – so it’s not a problem to use two or three hours for lunch. Sometimes I take just 20 minutes. We spend a lot of time at work so the productivity per hour is slower, but we might spend 14 hours a day so the final performance is not bad. The problem is we are not efficient uses of our time,” said Mr Cayuela.

Instead, he said he had experienced a large capacity of the Spanish working culture to reinvent itself to adapt to environment changes. “It’s very curious because we have the Latin Mediterranean culture, with siestas and a casual lifestyle, but on the opposite side we have the most successful and efficient companies in the world, such as Santander, Repsol, Endesa, Telfonica and Indra."

“We are not as disciplined as the Anglo Saxon people, but we have the capacity for creativity and self-innovation,” he said.

Mr Cayuela, however, said it would be difficult to mesh the contrasting sides of Spain’s working culture. “It’s a hard path because there are big gaps between the Mediterranean culture in provinces and the international professional culture in corporations. Considering that 95 percent of Spanish companies are smaller, the differences between the big and small companies are too high.”

Mr Cayuela, however, advocates that the Spanish culture has some positive points to add to the executive world. “If you are integrated in a multinational company and you take the best of that working culture and put in the Mediterranean side, the mix is very good.What we have to do is know what are our positives and negatives are, and try to reduce the bad things and take advantage of our values.” 

 

Photo credit: enjoylivingabroad.com

Hay 8 Comentarios

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Thanks for this insight into the spanish Business culture. I'm currently doing my Erasmus in Granada, so for me it is really interessting to learn more about this beautiful country.

Forgot to add.. the only difference is in UK summer is one month and a half in Spain is 3. Spanish people work as hard an as much as the rest of the work. I speak from knowledge, I am and Spanish living in London and working in a office. People don´t work harder here.

Not all the countries keep working in summer!!!! The rest of Europe also stop, including UK.

I run a few websites that teach English and have collected several years' worth of Analytics data as to when Spanish residents are focused on learning English, and have always wondered whether this is reflective of a bigger picture in terms of general work productivity in Spain.

We see about 6 months a year of active focus on studying English. There's a big drop off from about June 20th until the last week of September, a big drop off again from about 6th December until Jan 15th, and a big drop-off again for about a month around Semana Santa. That means about 6.5 months of 'focus' and 5.5 months of 'downtime' per year.

I know it frustrates a lot of English teachers in Spain who feel that their students are doing, at most, a couple of months' study before the next extended period of downtime - meaning they are constantly re-teaching the same topics!

I've also worked in a Spanish company in Barcelona and was amazed at the fact that people managed to spread out what would be about 4 hours of productive work in a UK based company, into a 12 hour working day here in Spain.

I'm not saying this to be critical as I absolutely love Spain, but I do feel worried that unless things change a bit regarding the above, then the younger generation in Spain is going to really end up losing out.

This is unfortunately quite true, I think the working culture has to change in order to change the Business climate in the country.

Total, per seguir pobres no cal treballar tant. Es lo que hay, el buen trabajo hay que pagarlo.

Well, another cultural clash: time zone and working horary! Check this article: http://qz.com/131210/spains-been-at-least-an-hour-behind-since-world-war-ii-and-it-shows/

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of Andalucia.com and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at korenhelbig.com.

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area perelloplus.com. @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Spain-Holiday.com. Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check: www.lookingfordrama.com.

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