Managing in Portugal

Working in a Traditional, Family-Oriented Culture

Managing in Portugal - Working in a Traditional, Family-Oriented Culture

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Family comes first in Portugal.

Portugal is not a country that likes to "toot its own horn."

While the European powerhouses of Germany, France, the U.K., Spain, and Italy grab headlines and tourist dollars, Portugal appears content to maintain a low profile and enjoy its own traditional ways, with family life at its heart.

Portugal, officially the Portuguese Republic, is a peaceful, tolerant country with about 10.3 million inhabitants. It is the westernmost country in Europe, bordered by Spain to the north and east, and the Atlantic Ocean to the south and west.

The country is a charming mix of ancient and modern – a Catholic country renowned for its medieval towns, castles and cobbled streets, it has nevertheless found a happy blend with all that modern, contemporary culture has to offer.

In this article, we'll look at what you need to know to live and work successfully in Portugal, and we'll explore its culture, economy, people, and traditions, to help you engage with and manage a Portuguese team.


This article is intended as a general guide only. Keep an open mind and use your own best judgment, depending on your situation and your colleagues.

Portugal's borders have remained virtually unchanged since the 12th century.

About Portugal

Up until the 12th century, Portugal was conquered and settled by numerous foreign invaders, including Celts, Romans, Visigoths, and Moors. It became an independent kingdom in 1139, and its borders have changed little since then.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, Portugal grew into one of the world's strongest economic and military nations, based on its sea power and domination of trade routes to the "New World" of South America.

But its power and influence began to diminish after a devastating earthquake in 1755, which destroyed the capital, Lisbon, and the hardships of the Napoleonic Wars, when the country was partly occupied by France. The monarchy was overthrown in the revolution of 1910. Portugal was then governed by a right wing dictatorship until it was overthrown by a peaceful military coup in 1974, known as the Carnation Revolution.

A new constitutional government was elected in 1976, and Portugal joined the European Economic Community (now the European Union, or EU) in 1986, enjoying rapid economic growth as a result. Sadly, the global economic crises of the late 1990s and 2008 mean that Portugal now has one of the weakest economies in the EU. Unemployment peaked at 17 percent in 2013, and reached 40 percent among young people.

Nevertheless, the economy is recovering steadily and Portugal is still an advanced, developed country with high living standards.

Useful Phrases

Portuguese is the country's official language, which, thanks to Portugal's imperial legacy, is spoken by more than 210 million people worldwide. It is also the official language of, among other countries, Angola, Brazil and Mozambique.

English Portuguese (emphasis in bold)
How are you? Tudo bem? (too-doh bang?)
How are things? Como vai? (koh-moh vah-ee?)
Hello/Goodbye Bom dia (bom dee-a)/Tchau (chah-ooh)
Thank you Obrigado (m) Obrigada (f)
See you later Ate logo (ah-teh loh-goo)
See you tomorrow Ate amanha (ah-teh ah-mang-yah)
What's your name? Qual e seu nome? (kwah-ooh eh seh-ooh noh-mee?)
Yes/No/Please Sim (seem)/Nao (now)/Por favor (por fa-voor)
Do you speak English? Fala ingles? (fah-lah eeng-glehz?)
What's your email address? Qual e o seu email? (kwah-ooh eh ooh seh-ooh ee-may-oh?)


The Portuguese have a reputation for being traditional and conservative, but they are very welcoming and tolerant of others. The country has integrated large numbers of people from its former colonies in South America and Africa with few problems, and modern Portugal has adopted many tastes and influences from these countries.

Family loyalty takes precedence over other social relationships, even in business. Nepotism is seen in a positive light, as organizations prefer to employ people that they know and trust. The Portuguese place great store by authority, age and rank, and are extremely polite and respectful in social and business settings.

Appearance is important in Portuguese society, especially in the cities. People are fashion conscious and often judge someone's social standing and success by the quality of his or her clothes.


Public holidays in Portugal are a sore subject. Not only are holidays that fall on a Saturday or Sunday not observed on the following Monday in compensation but, as part of the nation's economic austerity measures, two religious festivals and two other public holidays have been suspended until 2019. These are:

  • Corpus Christi – Date changes each year (May 31 in 2018; June 20 in 2019.)
  • Republic Day – October 5.
  • All Saints' Day – November 1.
  • Restoration of Independence Day – December 1.

Portugal's current public holidays are:

  • New Year's Day – January 1.
  • Good Friday – Date changes each year (March 30 in 2018, April 19 in 2019.)
  • Freedom Day – April 25.
  • Labor Day – May 1.
  • Portugal Day – June 10.
  • Assumption Day – August 15.
  • Immaculate Conception Day – December 8.
  • Christmas Eve – December 24.
  • Christmas Day – December 25.

In addition, there are two further regional public holidays. People in Lisbon celebrate the Feast of St Anthony on June 13, and people in Porto celebrate the Feast of St John the Baptist on June 24.


See and for up-to-date lists of Portugal's public holidays.

Employment Law

Everyone who works in Portugal must contribute to social security and pay taxes there. EU citizens need a residence permit, while those from outside the EU also require a work permit and an entry visa. All the necessary documentation is available from the Portuguese Immigration Office. You should check with your HR department to ensure that you have all the information you need.

As a rule, foreign nationals in authorized employment share the same working rights and privileges as Portuguese nationals.

Portugal's employment laws are based on several domestic and international sources, including the Portuguese Constitution, the Labor Code, the Labor Procedure Code, and EU employment law. Here are a few key points you will need to know as a manager in Portugal:

  • All employees are guaranteed a minimum monthly wage, currently €589.17 (approximately $638).
  • Workers are entitled to a minimum of 22 days' paid vacation per calendar year.
  • In general, an employee cannot work more than eight hours a day, or more than 40 hours a week, without prior agreement. Your team is entitled to a break of at least an hour a day.
  • Mothers get six weeks' mandatory, fully paid maternity leave. They are also entitled to take 30 days' paid leave before the birth. Fathers are granted 10 days' paid paternity leave. Mothers and fathers are entitled to up to 180 consecutive days of "parental leave," which they can divide among themselves as they choose.
  • The Labor Code protects workers against discrimination on a wide range of issues, including age, disability, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, and union membership.
  • The Code also protects employees against dismissal or termination of contract without just cause. Examples of just cause include repeated unjustified absence, violent or abusive behavior, and disobeying a superior's instructions.
  • Written employment contracts aren't legally required, but they're considered to be good practice.


Meeting and greeting

When meeting someone, make eye contact and shake his hand. You should address people as "senhor" or "senhora" until you're invited to use their first names. Once a personal relationship has developed, men may greet each other with a hug and a handshake, while women kiss each other twice on the cheek, starting with the right.


If a colleague invites you to her home for dinner, you should arrive no more than 15 minutes after the agreed time. Bring flowers, good quality chocolates or candy for the hostess, but don't bring wine unless you know which ones your hosts prefer. Souvenirs of your home town or country are particularly popular and appreciated.

It's unlikely your hostess will take offence at your gift of flowers, but there are a few things to bear in mind: don't give 13 flowers because that number is considered unlucky; don't give lilies or chrysanthemums, as they are used at funerals; and avoid red flowers, which are regarded as a symbol of the Portuguese revolution.

Do not take a seat at the table until invited by your host or hostess, and don't start eating until the hostess says, "Bom appetite!" Good table manners are expected. While eating, you should hold your fork in your left hand and the knife in your right hand, or vice versa if you're left-handed.

Be aware of your body language, as some gestures, such as pointing or using your index finger to beckon someone, are considered vulgar in Portugal.

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Getting the Best From Your Team

As we have seen, Portugal is a traditional, formal country and there is a lot of respect for seniority and hierarchy. Those values are also present in the workplace. As a manager, your team will be looking to you for guidance and instruction. It's important that you are polite to your team and make a good first impression, and that you demonstrate proper business etiquette.

Portugal's respect for hierarchies within the family and the Catholic church is reflected in its business organizations. One consequence of this is that your team members may not be used to being given the responsibility to take decisions independently.

As a country that is both part of southern Europe and on the North Atlantic, the Portuguese encompass traits of both northern and southern European nations.

In his book, "When Cultures Collide," the cross-culture specialist Richard D. Lewis categorizes Portugal as an "Atlantic nation," while neighboring Spain is a "Mediterranean" one. That is, Portugal adopts a more methodical and organized northern European outlook than other southern European countries do.

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But the Portuguese do have a decidedly Mediterranean attitude to schedules and deadlines! They prefer to take their time with face-to-face meetings and developing personal working relationships. Business is conducted slowly in Portugal – relationships are made with people, not companies. With that in mind, you should try to create more personal connections by replacing email or telephone conversations with video conferencing or personal meetings.

After you've been working in Portugal for a while, you'll notice that Portuguese managers avoid directly confronting their team members. They do this by adopting a friendly attitude, being considerate of personal problems, and negotiating a way through any difficult issue.

They carry this friendly attitude over into dealing with their clients. They begin any relationship on the basis that trust already exists between the two parties. However, if that trust is shown to be misplaced, the client doesn't remain one for long.

You should be prepared to listen – often at length – and give advice readily when it's asked for. All this will help you build trust with your people.

Key Points

The Portuguese have a reputation for being traditional and conservative, and are extremely loyal to the family.

As in Portuguese society, there is a lot of respect for hierarchy in business. There is a strong vertical structure to many organizations and, as a team leader, you will be expected to do most of the decision making.

People prefer to do business with people they know and trust. Managers show respect for their people and avoid directly confronting them.