Eating on the Job in Spain

Having no work experience prior to my internship in Spain puts me in a unique position in terms of evaluating workplace culture. Coming into the program, I knew I would be experiencing two distinct but related challenges: my first real job and my first job in Spain. In the workplace, some of the adjustments I’ve had to make are related simply to the difficulties of beginning a new job while others are specifically tied to not just the job itself, but the fact that the job is in a different country with a different culture and different business practices. Due to my aforementioned lack of work experience, drawing this line between typical cross-cultural working practices and Spanish work practices has occasionally proved difficult. Nevertheless, between my own past experiences, knowledge of friends’ work experiences and the general perception of life in the American workplace provided by media, I believe I have enough knowledge to identify some important differences between the work culture in Spain and the work culture back home in the US. Scheduling differences are by far the most identifiable and most prominent differences between what I expect from work at home and what I’ve experienced through working here.

By the far the most obvious workplace difference I’ve encountered over my time in Spain is a concept known as the “horario intensivo”, a sort of summer schedule implemented by a majority of Spanish businesses. Due to extreme Madrid heat in the summer months, many companies have shortened schedules over some portion of June, July and August. At my company, for instance, the typical work day is 9:00-6:00 but in July and August switches to 8:30-2:30. This is done as a favor to employees to provide greater time for relaxation and more comfortable transits during the summer months. To my knowledge, nothing like this exists in the US and I’ve found it incredibly interesting. Scheduling differences in Spain were also apparent on a more day-to-day basis rather than just big picture.

As I’ve doubtless mentioned in at least one previous blog post, the meal schedule in Spain is very different and very important to people. The workplace is no exception to this. Of the five meals typical to the Spanish lifestyle, two are eaten at work. These meals during the work day are much longer in duration than in the US, with a minimum 30-minute morning break and about an hour for lunch as opposed to the 15-minute breaks or eat-at-your-desk culture that is more prevalent in the US. Furthermore, these two meals, a small breakfast-of-sorts at approximately 11:30 and a larger lunch at 2:00, are critical to the pace of the workday. Oftentimes, distinct tasks are assigned in the various intervals created by the meal breaks and meetings are frequently scheduled so as to not conflict with mealtimes.

Perhaps most importantly, the workplace meals have a huge importance in the minds of employees. In my experience, a lot of workers view the day as a series of shifts broken up with food: a small breakfast snack, about two and a half hours of work, a larger breakfast, two and a half more hours of work, an hour for lunch, three hours to close out the work day, and a small post-work meal at the end of it all. In the minds of employees here, the workday here really progresses meal to meal. Apart from being an important energy source throughout the day, these meals are important for another reason: socialization.

The discussions had over food are much longer, deeper and more personal than typical workplace dialogue in the US. In my short time here, I’ve discussed my relationship status, weekend plans, the Spanish Civil War, soccer, stereotypes of various European countries, and a whole lot more during food breaks. Quite possible the most valuable thing to come out of my time at Pulsar is going to be the time spent getting to know my coworkers. They’ve done a lot to grow me as a person and as a Spanish speaker. So much so that this level of socialization is something I hope to continue back in the US.

There are several aspects of the Spanish workplace I hope to bring back with me and carry with me throughout my professional career. Primarily, while I’m definitely a fan of eating quickly and getting back to work (because it often translates to getting home sooner), I think there’s something to be said for enjoying your food and enjoying the company of others. When possible, I may try to seek longer lunch breaks at future jobs and I certainly will continue to get to know my future coworkers on a more personal level as I have managed to do here in Spain.

In conclusion, I firmly believe that a lot of the aspects of a modern workplace are dictated more on a case-by-case basis than by a set of culture-based rules. Things like relationships among employees, a boss’ demeanor towards subordinates and the general environment of a business are largely dictated by the individual people rather than geographic/cultural location. Nevertheless, there are certainly some distinctly Spanish work habits pertaining to scheduling that are far different than the American norm. Namely, these differences consist of a summer schedule implemented fairly consistently across Spanish businesses, workday meals that are more frequent, longer and more important to the employees and a socialization style (especially during meals) that is much more personal. Experiencing this different environment has been amazing and hopefully can be something I build on when I return to the US and seek jobs there.