Categorized | Work

The average work day in Spain

Posted on 03 February 2013 by American expat!

The average work day in Spain is negotiating its way between tradition–when no air conditioning existed, the country was poor, and business was 99% local–and the present day, which sees multinational corporations making Spain their home and the technology industry pulling the old corporate culture into the global economy. This means people work long hours, but it doesn’t resemble any North American “arrive early, skip lunch, stay late” kind of definition of working long hours.

Let me explain.

A typical working day starts later her, as people get out of bed late. I am aware that there are cafes that are open by 7 am, maybe earlier, though I’ve never been out at that hour to witness this, because of where Spain sits on the edge of a timezone, at 7am the sun is barely up.

Most people head off to the office around 9:30 or 10:00, which means they are dressed and making their way there by foot, bicycle, scooter, metro, train or less often, by car. This typically includes a stop on the way for a short coffee, maybe even with some brandy in it if the night was particularly rough. Then it’s time for some real productivity, before a breakfast break around 11. If the job is a blue collar job, and thus begins a bit earlier, the employee will stop at 10:oo or so for their breakfast, which may or may not include a beer…because its helpful to be relaxed while working with tools and heavy machinery.

Lunchtime is siesta time

14:00 (2pm) is siesta time. In the cities, this means lunch, because a journey home for a real siesta would take far too long. But it is still called siesta and it lasts anywhere from an hour and a half to three hours. Most workers head off to a restaurant with coworkers or friends for a big meal, as lunch in any local restaurant is a three course affair, (sometimes four) called a menu del dia, and includes beer or wine and a coffee at the end of the three courses. So naturally you’d need at least a couple of hours to be served and then ingest all those courses.

8pm is still considered “afternoon”

After lunch it is back to the office to work straight through (although supplemented by several smoke and coffee breaks) until between six and eight, when they call it quits. Although it is not unusual to see offices with people still in them at 9pm. This naturally pushes dinner to much later than what we in the US might be used to, thus, extending the length of the day. In fact, up until about 9pm is considered “afternoon”.

Life happens after work

Most office workers hurry home after work to have an actual siesta before they run, hit the gym, bike or rollerskate along the ramblas – open spaces usually between main streets running both directions in the centers of town, with trees, benches, bike paths and lots of space. Or folks will exercise and then take a siesta and get ready for their evening, which is more often than not spent with other people – in bars, cafes, for a paseo through town, maybe dinner, sometimes out until very late (3:00 or 4:00am), but just out – to meet with friends and be with others. Then it’s finally to bed whatever time they collapse into it (though it is most certainly well after midnight). Then they do it all over again the next day. The norm seems to be to catch up on sleep by snoozing most of every Sunday, waking only to have a big meal with the extended family.

Summer Hours in Spain

In August, if a business does not actually close for the entire month, then they at least go on “summer hours”. This, and the closing of business, is to deal with the heat. August heat can become unbearable in the cities, and while offices have air conditioning now, this is a left over relic from earlier days when it did not exist – or the company just couldn’t afford it. Work during summer hours begins earlier, loosely around 8:00 am  and ends at 15:00 (3pm). The rest of the long afternoon is spent at the beach, park, or going to and from said relaxing places where a siesta is almost certainly involved.

It is usually one of the biggest adjustments when spending any amount of time in Spain, and it can take years to acclimate to the drawn out working hours and long nights. But one thing is certain if you want to adjust into the Spanish timetable – you must master the siesta.

siesta at work

6 Comments For This Post

  1. bnanno Says:

    Just to add to this info, outside Barcelona.
    Most factories will start between 6am – 8am, 7 am there is already dense traffic/full public transport to all the industrial areas.
    Banks open at 8:30 am, so people working there (and their early morning clients, esp business) will be up an about then.
    University lectures and Middle-High School classes start at 8am, and they are both daily, so 6:30-7:30 you will see a rush in public transport of students (and teachers) getting to these.
    Offices open at 9 am, by 9:30 rush hour is down. Yes, clothes shops do open at 10:00, but your butcher and fishmongers, and your local markets will begin at 8 am.

    People who have office at 9:00, those will officially close between 7-8pm, depending on their lunch hour.
    If you children want to do extra-curricular activities, language, sport, music, etc. etc. you might find that they may go on until about 9pm as standard.

    School hours will be 9- 4/5 for Primary (until 12 years), and 8-3:30 for middle and high school: may vary an hour or so during the week and acc to school. If they play in a team sport, you might often have to drive them to away matches that start very early on saturdays ann sundays, even in the depths of winter!

  2. Gwen Says:

    I’m loving your blog! I’ve always had a passion for Spain (maybe because part of my heritage is from there), but haven’t been yet. I find it so interesting that the norm is to stay out until 3/4 in the morning. Such a taboo idea here in Canada when one has to work the next day.

  3. Lindsey Says:

    Is this generally expected to add up to an 8 hour day? Or is that not the cultural norm?

  4. American expat! Says:

    Maybe a little bit less. It depends on the company I suppose. There is a breakfast break and a 2 hour lunch break and sometimes people roll in pretty late in the morning, though I also see people stay until 20:00 as well. For sure the summertime hours (if one is even working in August) don’t add up to 8 hours a day.

  5. FEFIN/BARCELONA Says:

    Under no circunstances I can agree. All the explanation is completely false and no comment is deserved. I don´t know about what country is speaking.!!!!!

  6. Alan in Madrid Says:

    I’ve lived in Madrid for 12 years and this article is pretty good. My description would have been harsher still!

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