Managing in Argentina
Working in an Artistic, Cultured Country
Argentina is known for its world-class wine, passionate dancing, rich food, and varied, colorful culture. Its people are as diverse as its landscape, which boasts tropical rain forests at its northern reaches and glaciers at its southern tip.
Argentina's population has grown since the 19th century due to an influx of European immigrants, and this melting pot of cultures affects every aspect of life there. The capital, Buenos Aires, is known as the "Paris of Latin America" because of its art, architecture and fashion.
If you're asked to manage a team in Argentina, you'll likely find yourself straddling two cultures: South American and European. In this article, we'll look at what you need to do to navigate these different influences, and work successfully in this country.
This article is intended as a general guide only. Be sensitive to each person's unique personality and needs, treat everyone as an individual, and use your own best judgment when managing a team in Argentina.
Country and Culture
The second-largest country in South America and the eighth-biggest in the world, Argentina shares borders with Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, and Uruguay.
Argentina is bordered by Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, and Uruguay, and has a coastline in the South Atlantic Ocean.
Argentina's climate varies greatly depending on the region. The most populated areas – Buenos Aires, Córdoba, Rosario, and Mendoza – are generally temperate, while the north of the country is tropical and the south is sub-polar. Earthquakes pose a risk in some areas, and the last volcanic eruption occurred in 2000.
You'll find the nation alive with artistic passion and pride, which is no surprise, considering that Argentines invented the tango. The government continues to provide generous grants to the arts, even during economic downturns, so take time to enjoy the country's rich offerings.
Argentina is currently an emerging economy and a member of the G20. It enjoyed fantastic wealth in the early part of the 20th century, and became the world's seventh-richest nation. However, it has experienced steady economic decline since then, with spikes in growth followed by severe recessions. There is also a problem with fluctuating rates of inflation, which can be very high.
Corruption is another challenge for visitors and locals alike in Argentina. The country ranks 102nd out of 178 countries in Transparency International's 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index, so be careful about any workplace gifts you give or receive. (These might be viewed as bribes by your home country, and giving a bribe may be contrary to your home country's laws – even if it is given abroad.)
Spanish is Argentina's official language, but people in most major cities speak English as well. You'll make a good impression with your new team by learning key Spanish words and phrases before you arrive.
Employment laws in Argentina are similar to those in other industrialized nations. Workers aren't permitted to work more than eight hours per day, or 48 hours per week, and most people are required to have a contract with their organization that stipulates the terms of their employment.
Argentina's maternity policy guarantees women 90 days' paid leave (if they've been a resident in the country for three years), and many take 45 days' leave before and 45 days after the birth. Their positions are guaranteed for one year, unpaid, if they choose to take an extended absence. Free childcare is also provided for low-income families by an organization called Plan Nacer.
Detailed information on employment laws and workers' rights can be found on the Argentina Government Guide website.
Holidays and Vacations
Workers are entitled to 14 days' paid vacation if they've been employed by an organization for less than five years, 21 days for between five and 10 years, 28 days for between 10 and 20 years, and 35 days for more than 20 years. Argentines also observe several national holidays, in addition to their annual leave. These include:
- New Year's Day – January 1.
- Carnival – Date changes each year (February 12 in 2018).
- Carnival/Shrove Tuesday – Date changes each year (February 13 in 2018).
- Memorial Day – March 24.
- Day of the Veterans – April 2.
- Good Friday – Date changes each year (March 30 in 2018).
- Labor Day – May 1.
- National Day – May 25.
- Flag Day – June 20.
- Independence Day – July 9.
- San Martin Day – Date changes each year (August 20 in 2018).
- Feast of the Immaculate Conception – December 8.
- Christmas Day – December 25.
Ninety percent of Argentines are practicing Roman Catholics. While only some of the religion's holidays are observed nationally, you'll likely find that a number of regions or towns shut down for their own celebrations. So, always check with your team, or the organization, before scheduling meetings or setting deadlines.
Carnival is one of the most popular festivals in the world, and the rituals practiced during it date back thousands of years. The Argentine government allows two days for these celebrations, but you'll likely find that many businesses close down for several days before and after. People come from around the world to celebrate Carnival in Buenos Aires, which means that you can expect restaurants, streets and public transportation to be extremely busy. It's best to avoid arranging any appointments around this time.
Argentina also has many other carnivals and festivals throughout the year. You can find a complete list on the Argentina Government Guide here.
Getting the Best From Your Team
Family life is central in Argentina, as in many other South American cultures. You'll gain the trust of your team members and show cultural intelligence by respecting their family commitments and understanding that their relatives come first. Personal relationships in general are also incredibly important. This means that you'll need to spend a significant amount of time and energy developing good working relationships with your people in order to build trust and rapport.
Argentines often have a serious, even sober, manner with people they don't know well, especially compared with attitudes in other South American cultures such as Brazil. Calling someone or something "not serious" is considered an accusation, so take a highly professional manner with your people until you get to know their personalities.
You'll likely find that they have a great sense of humor once they become comfortable with you. Don't be offended if people make jokes about you – this is a sign of trust and friendship. Take it with good grace, and don't be afraid to use humor yourself. All of this is part of building relationships with your Argentine team!
As team leader, you'll be expected to make most decisions. Make sure that your actions reflect your people's best interests, because many Argentines see their work colleagues as an extension of their family. Showing support for your team members in this way can help you build trust and rapport.
Your Argentine team members may be risk averse, unwilling to accept change, or apprehensive about radically new ideas that you would like to implement. They will likely feel more comfortable with uncertainty if there's a plan in place to address any problems, so conduct a Risk Analysis and create contingency plans to address the most likely issues.
Keep in mind that many organizations in Argentina are very bureaucratic. As a result, business moves slowly, and any new project or initiative will likely have to be approved by several people at multiple levels. You might not be used to this slow pace, so be patient and respectful of the system.
Arrive on time for meetings but expect your Argentine team members to be late, and be prepared to wait even longer for more senior colleagues. However, if you are invited to a person's home, you should aim to arrive 30 to 45 minutes late, and bear in mind that dinner is typically eaten after 10:00 p.m.
The Western hand signals for "OK" and "thumbs up" are considered vulgar in Argentina, so avoid using them.
Pouring wine in Argentina is a complex affair, and it's easy to get wrong. So, let your host or a colleague do this for you, whenever possible.
Imported liquor taxes are astronomically high in Argentina. Your team members are likely to pay for you when you're out together, so avoid ordering liquor unless it's inexpensive or locally made.
Argentines view "personal space" differently from many Westerners, and you may find their close proximity uncomfortable. Be prepared for people to put their hand on your shoulder or arm when they talk to you – make eye contact and don't back away, as the other person will likely take a step closer to bridge the gap if you do.
Business attire is refined, yet conservative, and you'll make a good impression by dressing well. Expensive accessories will be noticed and appreciated here.
Argentina is known for good quality beef and its high red meat consumption, so expect to see it served at many meals.
Argentina is a wonderfully artistic, family-oriented country with a rich history.
It has experienced many economic ups and downs over the last century, and this uncertainty has left its mark on people and businesses alike. Many Argentines are reluctant to take risks, so take steps to overcome risk aversion with careful planning.
Keep in mind that your team's first priority might be their family. You can build trust in your team by respecting this, and by doing what you can to accommodate people's needs.