Managing in Chile
Working in a Relationship-Oriented Culture
Chances are that, when you first saw Chile on a map, you thought, "Wow, that's amazing!"
One of the most extraordinary things about this remarkable country is its geography. Chile is a sliver of land that stretches for more than 2,600 miles from north to south, and is only 217 miles across at its widest point. If you laid the country across the U.S., it would span from New York to Los Angeles.
Chile conjures up images of spectacular mountain ranges, parched deserts, and the imposing Moai: the giant-headed statues of Easter Island. There is a great deal to discover and enjoy in the country known as the Land of Poets.
Chile is also an exciting place to do business. It boasts many bilateral and regional trade agreements, it is politically stable, and it is economically developed. In this article, you'll learn the basics of living, working and managing people in Chile.
This article is meant as a general guide only. Keep an open mind and use your own best judgment, depending on your situation and your colleagues.
Chile is separated from Argentina and Bolivia, its eastern neighbors, by the towering Andes mountain range. Peru lies to the north, across the high-altitude Atacama Desert. Chile is a land of physical and cultural contrasts, with a population of about 18 million people.
Chileans are a proud and patriotic people. They have built one of the most prosperous nations in South America, and they enjoy a safe, diverse society with orderly government – despite the turbulent years of military dictatorship during the 1970s and 80s. The major industries are mining, wine, tourism, chemicals, agriculture, tobacco, and financial services.
Spanish is Chile's official language. Managers and well-educated professionals are generally able to speak English and, if you don't speak Spanish, you can use a local interpreter with those who don't.
Chile is the world's longest country, at more than 2,600 miles from north to south.
Chilean Employment Laws
Under Chilean law, your team cannot work more than 45 hours, or six days, a week. The working day usually starts between 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m., and finishes at around 6 p.m., but cannot exceed 10 hours. Your team is entitled to a lunch break of at least 30 minutes.
Vacation Time and Holidays
Employees who have worked for a company for more than one year are granted 15 days' paid holiday each year.
They also celebrate the following national holidays:
- New Year's Day – January 1.
- Good Friday – Date changes each year (March 30 in 2018).
- Holy Saturday – Date changes each year (March 31 in 2018).
- Labor Day – May 1.
- Navy Day – May 21.
- Saint Peter and Saint Paul – July 2.
- Virgin del Carmen Day – July 16.
- Assumption Day – August 15.
- Independence Day – September 18.
- Army Day – September 19.
- Columbus Day - October 12.
- All Saints' Day – November 1.
- Reformation Day – November 2 in 2018.
- Immaculate Conception – December 8.
- Christmas Day – December 25.
The national holidays and Sundays are days off for your Chilean team members, unless your company has special authorization. If any of them work on a holiday or a Sunday, you will be expected to give them an alternative day off.
Avoid scheduling meetings in January and February, which are the two most popular months for vacation.
Pregnancy and Childbirth
Pregnant women are entitled to six weeks of paid leave before delivery, and 24 weeks after the birth. In some cases, this can be extended to 30 weeks. Managers cannot terminate a woman's employment during her pregnancy, or for 15 months after delivery. Organizations that employ more than 20 women must either pay for daycare, or provide a place where mothers can bring their children until they are two years old.
Termination of Employment
The Chilean Labor Code protects staff from having their employment ended without good cause. Under the code, "cause" includes behavior such as immoral conduct, sexual harassment, damaging property, illegal strikes, breach of contract, unjustified absence, or other serious misconduct.
Meeting and Greeting
When you meet someone in Chile, make eye contact, as it shows sincerity and interest. Greet the most senior person or head of the household first. Shake his or her hand, smile and offer a friendly greeting appropriate for the time of day:
|English||Spanish (emphasis in bold)|
Buenos dias (bwenos deeas)
Buenas tardes (bwenas tardes)
Buenas noches (bwenas noches)
Shake hands again when you leave. As they get to know you better, Chileans may offer you a kiss on the cheek. Some women pat each other gently on the right forearm or shoulder as a greeting.
If you meet someone for business, it's customary to exchange business cards. It's a good idea to have them printed in English on one side, and Spanish on the other. When you receive a card, admire it for a few seconds before putting it away.
Titles are important in Chile. Include them on your business cards, and use them when you address someone. Here are some common titles:
- Person with a PhD or a physician: doctor.
- Engineer: ingenerio (inhhenyero).
- Lawyer: abogado (abogado).
- Teacher: profesor (profesor).
Address people who don't have a specific title as Señor (Mr), Señora (Mrs) or Señorita (Miss), along with their surname. People usually have two surnames, one from each parent, so use the father's surname, which will be listed first. Keep using titles and last names until you are invited to be less formal.
You are likely to be judged on the way you dress in Chile. Business clothing tends to be conservative. Men should wear dark gray or navy suits, light-colored shirts, and a plain tie. Don't wear anything on your lapel. Women should opt for a simple skirt suit, pantsuit or dress, and heels. Bare legs are acceptable, but try not to wear anything that is too revealing.
Chileans are friendly, generous hosts, and it won't be long before you are invited to dinner at a colleague's home or at a restaurant.
If invited to their home, arrive 15 to 30 minutes late, and bring a gift of candies or wine for your hostess. Flowers are also acceptable, but send them in advance. Avoid yellow flowers, which show disrespect, or purple or black flowers, which symbolize death.
Chileans appreciate good manners and a formal atmosphere when dining, so there is a long list of dos and don'ts at the dinner table!
- Wait for your host or hostess to show you to your seat, and don't sit down until all the women have done so.
- Don't sip your drink until your host offers a toast. The most common one is to good health, "Salud!" If you pour a glass of wine for someone else, use your right hand and never pour it backwards into their glass, as this shows you dislike them.
- Don't start eating before your hostess invites you to, and you should taste everything offered to you.
- Put down your cutlery before you speak, and don't put your hands under the table. Don't lick your fingers or use toothpicks, both of which are considered vulgar.
- Chileans may be offended if you leave any food on your plate. They also consider it rude to ask for seconds. After dinner, there is usually more conversation before people leave the table.
- In a restaurant, the general rule is that the person who issues the invitation pays for the meal. Men will almost always pick up the tab; women who insist on paying could embarrass Chilean men. Instead of offering to pay, reciprocate by offering to host a meal – and be sure to keep your word!
- In general, you should tip 15 to 20 percent in restaurants. Some restaurants will add a 10 percent service charge; if this is the case, add five or 10 percent more as a tip.
It is best to keep gestures to a minimum, as many common actions might be misinterpreted. Pointing or clicking your fingers are regarded as extremely rude, and hitting your left palm with your right fist is considered offensive. A palm up gesture, with your fingers spread out, is a sign that you think someone is stupid.
If you're unsure about what to do at the dining table, look at the people around you and follow their lead.
Getting the Best From Your Team
One of the first things you may notice about the Chilean workplace is a clear hierarchy. Titles and appearances are important, and executives rarely associate with lower-level employees. Remember to use people's titles, and to show respect to anyone who is senior to you.
As a manager, your team members will give you respect, and they will expect you to give them clear direction. They are unlikely to question your decisions, as challenging authority is seen as disrespectful.
Chileans love to discuss family and relationships, and that extends to the workplace. Your family and background will be of great interest to them, and you should ask about your team members' personal lives. In Chile, who you know can be as important as what you know, so try to build up a wide network of contacts.
Chileans like to do business face to face, so spend time with your team members to gain their trust. If you're managing a virtual team, try to replace some telephone and email chats with video conferencing to create more personal connections.
When you meet in person, be prepared for Chileans to stand very close to you. Their idea of personal space may be very different to yours, so be aware of your own body language. For example, a team member may be offended if you step away or shrink back when he touches your shoulder.
You should also expect to be interrupted when you speak. It is not considered rude in Chile to talk over one another; rather, it's seen as a way of expressing enthusiasm and interest. Being flexible and going with the flow of the conversation are key skills to master.
Although much of the business environment is formal, you should take a more relaxed approach to meetings. Don't dive into business right away. A little social chitchat is customary and will help you get to know your team better. As well as family and children, good topics of conversation are wine, history and the country's natural features. It's best to avoid "heavy" subjects, such as politics and religion.
During negotiations, Chileans are generally calm but may get emotional and become more assertive. Be firm in response, but try not to appear too aggressive. Offering a compromise can be a smart tactic, because it shows that you value your business relationship.
If you have to give critical feedback to a team member, do it in private. Chileans value one another's dignity and may lose respect for you if you criticize someone in public.
- Food and drink: don't drink alcohol in public areas, such as streets or parks. The water is generally safe, but you may want to drink bottled water for your first few days. Be cautious about eating raw shellfish and uncooked vegetables.
- Identification: carry your passport with you at all times.
- Shopping: Cash is far more common than credit cards. The peso is the official currency. Don't expect to haggle, and don't reach for your money until the vendor gives you a price.
- Safety: Chile is a safe country for work and travel, but beware of pickpockets and thieves in large cities.
- Photographs: don't take pictures of military buildings or vessels.
Chile, the world's longest country, is a land of great contrasts, with much to offer global businesses. It is one of the most stable and prosperous nations in South America.
You'll want to make a strong first impression on your team members to earn their trust. Seniority is very important, so greet the most prominent person first.
Building strong relationships may also be key to your success. Get to know your team members better before you begin to discuss business. Where possible, talk face to face rather than by phone or e-mail.