Work culture in Spain: Your 10 rules guide


Updated on Jul 21 • 4 minute read

Whether you’re going to Spain for a new job, a business meeting, to freelance=, start your own business, or to intern, you might be wondering, “what is the work culture in Spain like?”

Knowing the business culture in Spain will help you immensely when it comes to managing your expectations and avoiding disappointments. It’ll help with getting along with your colleagues, networking, getting promotions, and adjusting to your day-to-day work life.

So here’re the top 10 rules to keep in mind about the work culture in Spain if you want to be successful:

Rule #1: Respect the leadership structure

Traditionally, businesses in Spain have always respected hierarchy. In such companies, it’s common for senior management to call the shots without involving others in decision-making.

But recently, multidisciplinary teams have slowly replaced hierarchy, especially in younger and newer companies that employ expats or locals who’ve studied abroad. These groups of people have created a more open and modern work environment where it’s becoming accepted to speak your mind.

So take note of how others in the company deal with leadership and respect that hierarchy (or the lack thereof).

Rule #2: Be prepared for chaotic meetings

Spaniards don’t shy away from expressing their emotions and sharing about their personal lives. So meetings can be quite chaotic with people getting off track and sharing personal stories or having heated conversations, emotional outbursts during the meetings, or dramatic speeches. So don’t be alarmed by the raised voices and know that patience is your friend, as meetings will almost always start or end with personal stories.

Rule #3: Don’t take time too seriously

Unlike the work culture in Germany, which emphasises punctuality and being on time, the work culture in Spain embraces a more relaxed approach. It’s common for meetings to run long or be postponed, deadlines to change, and for someone to be late.

We understand it can be frustrating if you’re someone from a culture that respects time. So here are some tips:

  • Don’t schedule anything right after your meeting.
  • Don’t schedule meetings during lunch hours (1:00 - 4:00 p.m.), unless you plan to have a lunch meeting.
  • Have patience. It’s not considered rude to be 10-20 minutes late, so keep that in mind when expecting someone.
  • Work towards your goals and personal deadlines, but don’t stress too much as it’s not uncommon for them to change.
  • Don’t pressure your colleagues to adapt to your way of working but try to adjust or find a middle ground by sharing what works best for you.

Rule #4: Know the unwritten rules of verbal and non-verbal communication

Just like in social settings, Spaniards are relaxed and friendly at work. You’ll be surrounded by approachable, humorous people who love to smile.

When meeting someone for the first time, it’s common to be professional, give a handshake and maintain eye contact. Only when colleagues get to know each other well do they greet each other with a kiss on the cheek.

Also, don’t expect to jump right into business when meeting someone for the first time. In Spain, relationship building's of importance, and no negotiation or business talk takes place without taking the time to get to know the other person first. So don’t be alarmed at the slow pace of business meetings or the personal questions.

Overall, as Spaniards get more comfortable, they tend to get close and physical, with hugs or a pat on the back, shoulder, or arm being quite common. You’ll also notice that when they are comfortable, they raise their voices and even interrupt someone. This's a great sign that they’re interested in you or what you’ve to say.

Rule #5: Dress to impress

In Spanish culture, taking the time to be presentable and put together is appreciated. So invest in good formal and conservative work clothes to appear professional and make a good impression. Our general recommendation's to wear suits if you work at banks, consultancy firms, etc., business casual in other big corporations, and smart casual when working at start-ups.

Rule #6: Work hours in Spain: start late and end late

Spaniards work an average of 36 hours a week.

Work hours in Spain are long, with people coming to work around 10 a.m. But this doesn’t mean they don’t work as hard. People enjoy very long lunch breaks and usually go home late, around 8:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

Rule #7: Lunch break's crucial

2-hour lunch breaks are quite prevalent in Spain. But not for the infamous ‘siestas,’ which are a fading concept in modern Spain. Instead, lunchtime's a time used for a variety of things, such as meeting with clients or socialising with colleagues. But most importantly, lunchtime's sacred because of “la sobremesa” — a long chat after the meal is done.

So don’t skip lunch by eating at your desk; use the opportunity to mingle with the people and make new connections. You can even learn a few Spanish phrases to open the conversation and impress your Spanish colleagues.

Rule #8: Keep the work-life balance in mind

Work-life balance in Spain is pretty good and on par with neighbouring countries. For instance, a big part of work-life balance's taking holidays, and Spanish labor laws ensure employers are well-rested throughout the year and have time for vacations. Full-time workers get 30 annual paid vacation days plus national holidays. But remember that unused vacation days can’t be compensated or carried over to the following year. So you better use them!

A big change in 2022 that’ll enhance work-life balance is Spain’s 4 days work week trial, as seen in other countries like Belgium. The pilot project will have 6,000 employees across 200 small and medium-sized companies work 32 hours across 4 days with full pay.

Rule #9: Personal life doesn’t always stay personal

Spaniards don’t necessarily isolate their work lives from their private lives. It’s considered acceptable to talk about relationships, feelings, or personal matters at work. If you’re not used to it, you might feel it’s invasive to talk about your private life at work. But it also means your colleagues trust you and are your friends outside of work.

Rule #10: Address people by their surname

Although Spaniards are very friendly, they’re also very formal when they address each other in a professional environment. So unless stated otherwise, always refer to them by their surname, adding with señor, señora, or señorita. It’s a sign of respect.

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