Culture and business collide in Spain
The Spanish stereotype belies a hard-working culture, yet small companies still struggle with clashes between culture and modernised work schedules.
It was good news when new business owner Santiago Revert received a sizeable order from Germany just as Spain’s summer slowdown was starting to hit.
He was less ecstatic, however, when he couldn't find a logistics company to deliver the order on time. Many were closed for the summer.
“In some industries, the companies even tell you to pick up small orders yourself,” Mr Revert said. “For us it’s an inconvenience, because the other countries keep on working.”
Many small companies find it difficult to operate year-round in a country where culture and modernised work schedules sometimes clash.
Spain’s productivity is particularly affected during the summer months when many small companies shut down, have reduced staff, or shorten work hours to finish at 3pm, more so in rural areas and civil services.
Forty-year-old Mr Revert became a joint business owner of furniture exporter Imoa last year, after losing his job in an international company as a result of Spain’s economic crisis.
Yet even though his new company is struggling to attract sales in Spain’s recessed economy, Mr Revert also decided to close 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 staff needed for decisions were not there.”
“If the rest of industries stayed open, for sure, we would get a bit more successful figures. But for that everybody would have to get into the same philosophy.”
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 percent.
Mr Revert said, however, that the crisis and globalisation have influenced many businesses in his industry to reduce their holiday period.
“A lot of companies aren’t closing any more during August because they’re scared they won’t be around to open in September.
But in the near future it will be changing more because the world is changing as well, and it’s just not effective to be closed for the whole month, or even two weeks,” he said.
Twenty-eight year old British expatriate Navinya Lee, however, was surprised when she took a job with an event management company in Madrid last year and found her 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,” she said.
“With everyone away, we literally could not work during the summer, and the lack of sales in those months affected our sales targets.”
Ms Lee said that in her native country holidays are taken throughout the year so that work life can continue as usual.
“The summer months should be no different to the other ten months of the year. The world does not stop because it’s summer.”
Yet the Spanish stereotype belies a hard-working business culture that has long been established in larger companies and multinationals in the main Spanish cities, such as Madrid and Barcelona.
Tabarca Technologies CEO Jose Luis Cayuela said they long adapted their business model and timetables to make sure they were always available to serve their clients’ needs rather than their own.
“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 and spending time with my family in the afternoon.”
“Even then, I’m always available through this,” said Mr Cayuela, waving his telephone.
Having worked for more than 30 years with several large multinational firms, Mr Cayuela describes a work culture in stark contrast to the one often associated with the Spanish stereotype of siestas, late starts, and long vacations.
Siestas, he said, disappeared from his workplace more than 20 years ago, and the practice of long lunches were relative to an average workday of around 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 lunch is part of our job with meetings with clients, sometimes I take just 20 minutes. I still also try to go home twice a week to have lunch with my wife.
“The thing is, 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, but on the opposite side we have the most efficient companies in the world, such as Santander, Repsol, Telefonica 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.
“Considering that 95 percent of Spanish companies are small to medium, the differences between the big corporations is 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.”
CM / Expatica
Photo credit: Gilad Rom (Spanish flag).