lunes, 17 de septiembre de 2007

Culture in the Workforce

A Financial Times article has nicely articulated something that has always stood out for me since my beginnings of professional experience here in Spain.
"At present, Spain has the longest working hours (and one of the lowest productivity rates) in Europe. Two- to three-hour lunch breaks are common, and office hours often stretch past 8pm. As a result, a high proportion of women drop out of the workforce after they have children, or take dead-end, part-time jobs in supermarkets and department stores."

Though this article is primarily about the role of Spanish women in the workforce (which seems low to European standards, a new law will attempt to remedy it), I couldn´t help but think about the relationship between Spain´s unique working format and its potential economic output.

I´ve found out the hard way that businesses, shops and markets across the country abruptly close their doors at 7 or 8 o´clock. Banks close even earlier, and all of this leaves me with no way to "do errands" and often without time to even buy groceries. I know I´m not the only one with this problem.

As a result, my question has always been, wouldn´t Spain benefit from more of a window between the closing of office hours and the closing of shop/business hours? My rationale has been that more spending means more profit, and when there is no time to spend, the upward spiral fails.

Somehow though, Spain has been able to get it done. And this delves into a deeper cultural issue that I´m not capable of understanding or analyzing, nor will I for fear of trivializing it. However, it must be said that these work hours (and apparent lack of work production) stand out as a stark inconsistency with other EU partners. Pointing out the low wages earned by the average professional in the same context might counter that argument.

Taken from nother FT article on such changes in Spanish companies,

"The concern was genuine, as Spaniards are a gregarious lot. Long working hours are punctuated by frequent breaks: the 11am coffee and tapas break, taken, standing up, in a bar; a two-hour,sit-down lunch at 2.30pm, and coffee breaks in the afternoon. Unlike the British, Spaniards would not dream of eating a sandwich at their desks."

Banco Santander has stepped out of the Spanish blend of business hours (by moving out of Madrid and creating a Santander City - a complex 4 times the size of the Vatican, and adapting their work patterns), and it could be the first part of reaction of business to do the same (Telefonica has followed in a similar fashion). It is still to be determined what affect, if any, their actions will have.

Personally, I find the Spanish working hours an interesting contrast in cultures. I do believe that culture is strong enough to resist and even deny change. Its a lesson for all aspiring managers finding themselves in different cultures. The incentive might have to come from abroad, yet the incentives of others might keep it the way it is.

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