Do siestas make the Spanish lazy? – Work culture in Spain
by Nina Lee
There are certain things that happen in this country that make you say, “Only in Spain.”
That’s what I thought when I heard about the employee who hadn’t showed up to work for six years but was still getting paid.
No one had noticed he wasn’t showing up for six whole years until, irony of all ironies, they were going to award him a certificate for 20 years of loyal service.
The image that is painted for those who don’t live here is a land of siestas, long lunch breaks and in general a slower pace of life.
Is it any wonder that hand in hand with that come the generalizations of lazy or mediocre workers?
Pair it with stories like the one above, or even another one in which two employees didn’t show up to work for 15 years but were still collecting pay, and the conclusion seems pretty hard to avoid.
Do siestas make the Spanish lazy?
So, are the Spanish less hard-working than other countries because of the siesta? Do the Spanish have any ambition or are they content with the mediocre?
These are questions that don’t have straightforward answers. While I do think there are many situations in which people are not working hard, if at all, or others are simply bathing in mediocrity, this is a massive generalization.
For example: look at their work schedule.
The Spanish actually have pretty long work hours. The siesta isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Your work day can be from 9 A.M. to 2 P.M. but then you have to go back to work from 4 or 5 P.M. to 8 or 9 P.M.
This means your day is much longer, dinner isn’t until ten o’clock at night and you’re not in bed until midnight or one o’clock at best.
Not only is your working day stretched out but you’re getting less sleep.
But on the other hand there’s the fact that the Spanish are the most social people I have met.
The lines between personal and work life don’t exist. Meetings tend to go on much longer than strictly necessary because everyone is sharing about what is happening in their lives, or speaking over one another to interject their opinions or somewhat related personal anecdotes.
The first time I sat in on a meeting of Spanish teachers I was amazed at how little was accomplished despite how much talking was done.
And this carries over into everything. Stopping to say hello on the way to my class, I’m held up for at least five minutes by conversation. People genuinely want to talk to you, or talk about themselves.
While this doesn’t mean the Spanish are intentionally trying to avoid work, it unfortunately can lend itself to a lack of efficiency, to put it politely.
We’re not in Manhattan anymore…
Now as a native New Yorker, I have ambition embedded into every single blood cell of my body.
The culture of the city and the US in general is to have drive, passion and energy to take things to the next level, especially when it comes to your career.
Why settle for working for someone else when you can start your own business?
Why only open one business when you can make more money by opening several?
While the economic crisis doesn’t make that a feasible option in Spain, I think it also is in part due to the culture. With a slower pace of life comes a greater desire for work-life balance.
Sacrifice family and social life time for the sake of your career? I have yet to meet anyone like that here, though they surely exist.
They just exist in much smaller numbers than New York, for example.
So, do siestas make the Spanish lazy?
Far from being lazy, I think many people here are hard workers.
Though it may not seem that way when you hear stories like the ones mentioned, or hear about the two-hour lunch breaks, there is something to be learned from their unwillingness to sacrifice their quality of life for economic or professional gain.
About the author: Nina Lee is a hangry traveler, tea-loving bookworm and dessert fiend. Diving into the Spanish way of life in Madrid, she loves everything to do with culture, dessert and living life abroad. Follow her sweet adventures at Nina’s Sweet Adventures and check out her blog just for English teachers in Spain at Hola, Teacher.
P.S. from Mr Chorizo: See how nice and diplomatic Nina was about this whole thing? I certainly won’t be nearly as nice, when I write my follow-up. Until then, try: Spanish timetable getting you down? Blame Hitler!
P.P.S. Okay, I’ve written another article about working in Spain. It’s got some stuff about the work culture, visas and more.