Managing in Mexico
Working in a Vibrant, Diverse Culture
Many people who know Mexico would describe it as "vibrant."
This vibrancy applies to its people, its art, its food, and its landscapes. Beautiful beaches line its borders on the east and west. And, inland, mountain rainforests protect some of the world's oldest ruins.
Mexico also has a vibrant workforce. There's a lot that you need to know to manage and work successfully in Mexico's unique, family-focused culture. In this article, we'll look at what makes Mexico so special, and we'll explore what you can do to build great relationships with your team members in Mexico.
The workforce in Mexico is very diverse. Use this article as a general guide only, and always use your best judgment when working with a Mexican team.
People and Culture
The United States of Mexico, as it's officially called, consists of 31 federal states and one federal district. It's located south of the United States of America and north of Central and Latin America.
Mexico consists of 31 federal states.
Because of its rich landscape, Mexico is home to around 12 percent of the world's biodiversity. The country boasts amazing beaches, dense rainforests, high mountain ranges, and even some deserts. It also contains 31 sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List – this is more than any other country in the world.
With a population of 127.5 million people, Mexico has the world's 16th largest economy, and it's the biggest Spanish-speaking country. Many professionals speak English in the larger cities, but most people conduct business in Spanish. You'll find it useful to learn at least some Spanish before you arrive, or you can hire a translator once you are in the country.
Keep in mind that values and working styles vary between rural areas and larger cities. For example, Mexico City is one of the biggest cities in the world. It is largely cosmopolitan, and, in some respects, feels like any other large Western metropolis. Smaller towns and villages, on the other hand, are usually more conservative and patriarchal.
Over 80 percent of Mexico's population is Catholic.
Mexico's Recent Labor Reforms
In 2012, Mexico overhauled its labor laws to offer more protection for workers. These reforms were also designed to limit outsourcing and subcontracting.
Mexico's labor laws are now similar to those of the United States, with strict anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies in place.
These reforms also made maternity and paternity leave mandatory. The law gives mothers up to six weeks of leave prior to the birth of a child and six weeks after, while it grants fathers five days. The law also allows mothers to work shorter shifts when nursing a baby.
There's now more protection for employers, too. For example, they can now put new hires on probation for up to three months (new managers get six months). This allows them to ensure that new recruits meet their hiring requirements. The reforms also make it easier to fire people for poor performance.
The way that people are promoted has also changed. Under the old system, seniority, not merit, was a major factor in career advancement. Now employers are encouraged to use a merit-based system, and to offer bonuses and promotions for high productivity and good performance.
Holidays and Vacation
Most workers in Mexico receive paid annual vacation time, but the amount of leave is based on length of service. This is as follows:
- One year or less – six days paid vacation.
- Two years – eight days.
- Three years – 10 days.
- Four years – 12 days.
- Five to nine years – 14 days.
After nine years of service, employees receive two paid vacation days for every five additional years of service.
As well as annual vacations, people in Mexico get the following national holidays as paid leave:
- New Year's Day – January 1.
- Constitution Day – First Monday in February.
- Benito Juárez's Birthday – Observed third Monday in March (February 5 in 2018.)
- Labor Day – May 1.
- Independence Day – September 16.
- Revolution Day – Observed third Monday in November (November 19 in 2018.)
- Change of Federal Government – Every six years, when a President is sworn into office.
- Christmas Day – December 25.
Many states observe other civic and religious holidays. For example, November 1 and 2 are All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, respectively. On these days, many people in Mexico travel to their family home to honor relatives who have passed away.
You might find that some offices are vacant on these days, even if your state or organization doesn't officially recognize them as religious holidays.
Before you schedule a meeting or appointment, make sure that it doesn't fall on a religious or civic holiday.
Getting the Best From Your Team
A good first impression is important in Mexico. Others will likely judge you by the status of the person who introduces you, so take great care with who you choose. People may also judge you based on your appearance, and the quality of your hotel and transportation, so select these carefully.
Keep in mind that family is extremely important here. Most Mexicans feel that it's their duty to care for their family, including their extended family. You will build trust with your team members when you ask about their family and talk about yours. It's good practice to be flexible when team members need to attend to urgent family business, as long as it doesn't impact negatively on your team's performance.
The focus on family often extends to the team, which some people view as a "second family." Workplace relationships are usually very strong, and team members will often assist one another in times of need. So, stay late to help team members who have fallen behind, and do whatever you can to support your people and provide a healthy workplace.
Team members will often make decisions based on what's best for the group. Therefore, you can further build trust with your team members when you involve team members in decision making.
Your team members will respect your rank, but you'll lose their respect quickly if they think that you're bragging about your status or wealth. Do what you can to keep your word, and make sure that you lead by example.
When you need your Mexican team to buy into change or get behind a new project, focus on the facts, but also make an effort to appeal to their emotions. Personalize your points, stress how the initiative will benefit their well-being and their family, and explain how it will strengthen their reputation.
Finally, your boss or colleagues will likely invite you out for a meal or to their home for dinner. Always accept these social invitations – they're a vital part of relationship building.
Mexico has one of the highest crime rates in the world. Mexican criminals sometimes target foreigners for robbery, assault, carjacking, and even kidnapping, and the number of these incidents continues to rise each year.
Take common-sense precautions when in the country. Ask for advice on what to do and what not to do before you arrive, and don't travel to neighborhoods or towns that you're unfamiliar with, unless you have a trustworthy guide.
- Mexico is in the "Ring of Fire," which is one of the earth's most violent earthquake and volcano regions. Make sure that you know your organization's safety procedures in the event of an emergency.
- Professional titles (such as doctor and professor) are very important in Mexico, and respecting them is a vital part of business etiquette. If people don't have a professional title, use a courtesy title such as Señor (Mr), Señora (Mrs), or Señorita (Miss), followed by their surname. Always address people by their professional or courtesy title until they ask you to use their first name.
- Punctuality is important in business settings, but social engagements are more relaxed. Check with your host first, but Mexicans generally expect guests to arrive around 30 minutes late. Mexicans eat dinner late, usually at around 8:30 p.m.
- Machismo (the belief that men should be strong and aggressive) is still common in Mexican culture, although it is becoming less common as women become more prevalent in business and government. If you're a woman, demonstrate your expertise and skills with dignity and grace. In rare cases, male colleagues might be unwilling at first to accept your authority. Be persistent and kind, and stick up for your people. You'll earn their respect over time.
- Keep in mind that the oldest person generally pays for the meal when out with colleagues or business associates. However, it's good manners to offer to pick up the check. To reciprocate when someone else pays, invite them out for another meal and insist, ahead of time, that it's your treat.
- Business dress is conservative in Mexico. Men should wear dark gray or navy suits. Women should wear conservative suits and dresses, and they should take special care with makeup and accessories.
Mexico has a vibrant culture and it is an energizing place to work.
To be an effective manager in Mexico, focus on building good relationships with your team members. Keep your word, and support people to show that you care about them.
Family is important here, so give your team members some flexibility if they need to take care of family business.
Safety is also a significant concern – check your local government's state department or embassy for advice on traveling safely within Mexico.