Managing in Spain
Working in a Vibrant, Family-Oriented Culture
Spain has given the world fiestas, siestas and flamenco, and some of the greatest artists and musicians have called this country home. So, it's no surprise that the Spanish know how to work hard, but also know how to enjoy their colorful culture when it's time to slow down.
If you're new to a team management role in Spain, you'll find that these traditions, along with recent employment law changes, have a major impact on how people live and work.
In this article, we'll look at this in more detail, and we'll explore how you can manage a team successfully in this vibrant country.
Spain is part of Europe's Iberian peninsula, and its territories include the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands. In 2014, it was home to around 46.5 million people.
Spanish is the country's official language. Many professionals in larger cities also speak English, but you'll find fewer fluent English speakers than in many other European countries. There's a strong sense of regional identity, and you're likely to hear regional languages, such as Catalan and Galician.
The primary religion is Roman Catholicism, which 75 percent of the population practices. Religious festivals and beliefs dominate much of Spanish culture.
Spain has Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts, and over 8000km of beaches.
With the collapse of the Spanish property bubble, the country suffered particularly badly during the eurozone crisis. Unemployment in Spain was 21 percent in 2015, with youth unemployment as high as 47 per cent. This has had a huge social impact.
Spain is a diverse country, and home to people with varied backgrounds and cultural traditions. This article provides general advice only: use your best judgment, and respect your team members' individuality and unique needs when doing business here.
Employment Law and Working Hours
Spain's government overhauled the country's labor laws in 2012, as part of a series of measures designed to address the effects of the eurozone crisis on the country.
The changes aimed to make Spain more competitive, and included the following:
- Severance packages were drastically reduced. Previously, unemployed workers received 45 days' salary for each year of service. Now, they receive 33 days' pay per year of service.
- It's now easier for organizations to hire and fire employees. They can also now decrease wages, and opt out of collective bargaining situations (depending on market conditions).
- Organizations receive tax incentives to hire workers under the age of 30.
Employment law is likely to change again, as the 2012 changes have not halted rising unemployment and falling wages.
Parental leave was largely unaffected by the recent legislation. Women on maternity leave are still entitled to 16 weeks' salary, and new fathers may take up to 13 days' paid paternity leave. Women can also transfer up to 15 days of their paid maternity leave to their partner (parents do not need to be married to share parental leave).
There is generous compensation for Spanish workers who need to take sick leave: by law, they're entitled to 75 percent of their salary for up to 18 months. Some employers offer higher sick pay if workers have signed a collective bargaining agreement.
Visit the Ministry of Employment website to learn more about Spain's employment law.
Working Hours, Vacations, and Holidays
People at many Spanish organizations start work at 9:00 a.m. and finish at 8:00 p.m. This is considered a long day in most Western countries; however, Spaniards tend to take at least a two-hour lunch break – a tradition that has grown out of the siesta.
However, this cultural norm is slowly starting to shift, as more organizations push for a 9-to-5 workday, so that they can compete with other markets.
Most Spaniards get 30 days' paid vacation annually. They also celebrate a number of national holidays throughout the year.
In 2014, the dates for these are as follows:
- New Year's Day – January 1.
- Epiphany – January 6.
- Good Friday – Date changes each year (March 30 in 2018; April 19 in 2019.)
- Labor Day/May Day – May 1.
- Assumption of Mary – August 15.
- Fiesta Nacional de España – October 12.
- All Saints' Day – November 1.
- Constitution Day – December 6.
- Immaculate Conception – December 8.
- Christmas Day – December 25.
Most organizations also offer at least two days off each year for regional holidays, and there are dozens of these throughout the year. Check with your organization to see which ones it observes.
If a holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, many Spaniards will take a four-day weekend – known as a "puente." Try not to schedule meetings around these holidays, as you may find that people are unable to attend.
Also, avoid arranging meetings in July and August, when many people go on annual leave or work shorter hours.
Getting the Best From Your Team in Spain
Most Spaniards prefer to do business with people that they know, like, and trust. This makes social interaction essential, especially early on in a relationship.
Spend time with your team casually before or after work to build stronger relationships. Also, opt for face-to-face communication rather than email, IM, or the telephone: you can use this time to build relationships and establish trust.
Your team members and colleagues may ask questions that can seem quite personal, but keep in mind that they simply want to get you know you better. Be ready to share an appropriate level of information .
Many Spaniards prioritize family, and consider their jobs to be less important. You'll gain the trust of your team members if you're supportive of this. Ask about their families, and give them time and flexibility to take care of family responsibilities when they need to.
You'll likely find some crossover between work and family, too. Many organizations are family businesses, and they may also do business with relatives. It's important to understand how people are connected – you may inadvertently cause offense if you overlook the fact that a supplier is related to a colleague, for example.
Understand Cultural Differences
Spain has a long history of multiculturalism and regionalism, and there are strong regional independence groups. The country is made up of 17 autonomous regions whose boundaries are largely based on historical divisions, and much power is devolved to this level.
Many communities are proud of their heritage and traditions. Research the area in which you're working carefully, and show cultural intelligence when you interact with your team members.
Additional Tips for Managing People in Spain
- Family life is important, so it's uncommon for Spaniards to invite colleagues home for dinner unless they are particularly close. If you receive an invitation, you may want to decline it politely the first time, as your host might have extended it only as a polite gesture. Take advice from colleagues about what's appropriate.
- It's usually respectful to show up to appointments on time. However, don't expect your colleagues do to the same; Spaniards often view appointment times as flexible, and meetings may start up to 30 minutes late.
- Lunch and dinner provide opportunities to relax, visit friends, and meet colleagues. People rarely discuss business over meals unless they arrange it in advance.
- Appearances and dress are important in Spain, and people will judge you on the quality and cut of your clothing. Men should wear dark wool or linen suits with a silk tie. Women should wear tasteful suits or business dresses, with a few well-chosen and, when possible, expensive accessories.
Spain has seen some major changes to its employment law in response to the eurozone crisis. However, the country's well-known family-oriented culture has remained constant, and it accounts for many of the distinctive working practices that you'll encounter in Spain.
To get the best from your team members, respect that their top priority may be their family. Be sensitive to this, and stay flexible when they need time off for personal matters. Share information about yourself and your family to build trust.
You should also be aware of regional differences. Don't make assumptions based on what you've seen elsewhere in the country; instead, show cultural intelligence, and take time to learn about local traditions.