In general, I believe it is more difficult to define professional “success” in Spain than in the United States. Besides the existing cultural differences between different industries in every country (a family-run restaurant will obviously have different professional goals than a Private Equity firm), Spanish culture overall tends to emphasize work as a part of life much less than the United States. In the United States, we often define ourselves by our profession. For instance, we introduce ourselves to strangers with our name and then quickly follow it with our job title or place of work. The question that always follows, “What is your name?”, is, “What do you do for a living?”. We identify ourselves with our professions, we value each other socially based on our professions, and it is pretty normal to sacrifice your personal time to finish work.
A successful American employee is typically disciplined and extremely dedicated to their work and their company. They communicate well in-person and over email, they are polite and reliable, and they take initiative to tackle ever more challenging tasks and projects. Success in the United States is defined by going above and beyond, often at the cost of a work-life balance. Employees must be innovative and intelligent while grinding away at their desks all day. While some firms are starting to challenge this model and be more flexible towards their employees’ time, the workaholic culture in the United States is still very present. For instance, there is a general sentiment that you should keep your work email open during your days off and continue to work from home if you are sick. Many U.S. employees are reluctant to take personal days off for fear of seeming lazy in the eyes of their supervisors, or work through their lunch breaks so as not to “waste time”.
The same is not true in Spain. People generally work to live instead of live to work. Spanish people do not really ask what you do for a living until after a few hours into their acquaintance with you. They value their time off (with most of them having about four personal weeks off, usually taken in July or August) and stick to their strictly defined working hours. Taking time off is not a big deal, and work-life balance is incredibly important to them. You should be hardworking and dedicated during your work hours, but you are not expected to be so in your free time. In Spain, “hustle culture” or a version of “grinding hard” does not really exist. For Spaniards, work is more than just a place where you make money– it is also a place to be social and connect with others over coffee, lunches, and drinks. Thus, I feel that my host culture defines professional sense by the connections that are made.
As an extremely social culture, creating a warm, open work environment is paramount for Spanish professionals to feel fulfilled in their jobs. Success is also about creating a large and interesting network in your field outside of your immediate workplace. Expanding contacts and being well-connected are central to a Spanish employee’s value in the workplace, as meetings and interpersonal interaction are key to how much of business operates here in Spain. People rely on client referrals, on long-standing business relationships, and on maintaining ties with colleagues old and new.
In my internship and the industry it is in (corporate law), this idea of connections as success holds true. While networking between lawyers is not extremely common, networking with potential and current clients is very important. People in my firm and industry are constantly sent to conferences, meetings, summits, and more to make those connections and bring more clients into the firm. More specifically, as the law firm I work for sifts through tons of different startup pitches to present good portfolios to its investor clients, connections within founders circles and the startup world are crucial to the firm’s prosperity.
I will note, however, that unlike the majority of Spanish professional culture, law and finance tend to have more of an American mindset than a Spanish one. While connections are still critical and people do take long periods of time off from work without interruption, hustle culture is more present in these industries. I have witnessed how employees are often expected to stay late outside of their work hours, work on weekends, and even take calls during their lunch breaks. Employers in these industries care a lot about efficiency and not wasting valuable time during work hours, much more so than the typically relaxed work culture of Spain. Overall though, I can still say the Spanish priority of making connections reigns supreme here.