By Think Spain

The drawn-out Spanish working day may be about to change now that employment minister Fátima Báñez has announced that MPs ‘should clock off at 6pm to set an example’ and that she wants the rest of the workforce to be able to do so in order to ‘bring it in line with Europe’.

The Spanish day has always started anywhere between 8am and 9.30am and finishing between 8pm and 9.30pm. Typically, a ‘breakfast break’ of up to 45 minutes is taken at around 11am, with all staff leaving en-masse to go to a bar for coffee and croissants, then the long lunch hour can be anything from 2 hours (usually 2pm-4pm) to 4½ hours (1pm-5.30pm). This means that although Spaniards are not actually working a 12-hour day, they are ‘on the go’ for this long and, with commuting where applicable, can mean 14 hours a day spent away from home five days a week and in most sectors, Saturday mornings, typically until 1pm or 2.30pm are a normal part of the working week.

Despite these hours, numerous studies over decades have shown Spain is one of the least-productive countries in the western world, leading to an unfair stereotype of its workers being ‘lazy’ and ‘needing to sleep all afternoon’, something which employees sorely resent as they practically never see the inside of their homes in waking hours except on Saturday afternoons and Sundays.

Four Hours In Town, Everything Shut And Nothing To Do

For those who live close enough to work to go home for lunch, the long middle-of-the-day break means they can cook a hot meal, settle down to enjoy it and chat with their family, take the standard 20-minute siesta afterwards – contrary to popular stereotypes, the siesta is only a short post-meal nap and very few even bother – and relax for a while before going back for the 3 hour afternoon shift. These days, the majority of employees do not live near enough to work to justify going home, meaning commuters are stuck in a different town for hours with nothing to do.

As their work premises will be shut for the long lunch, bringing a packed lunch to heat up in the office microwave is not normally feasible, so they have to spend a good chunk of their salaries on eating in restaurants five days a week. They also have to find some way of filling the next three or four hours with nowhere to go as shops are shut. In smaller towns, even bars shut during this period.

This is hardly conducive to the kind of ‘quality time’ or ‘relaxation’ to set them up for another 3-4 hours’ work in the evening and, getting home at 9pm or 10pm, they would not have time for their daily hot meal after work as they would go to bed on a full stomach, meaning they have to somehow arrange to eat it in the middle of the day.

No Home Life

Public sector and bank workers, including many medical staff, typically work 8am-3pm and attend to customers until 1pm or 2pm, with the same ‘breakfast break’ of 30-45 minutes as the private sector – effectively, a full working day, but with members of the public having to rush to see them in the mornings.

All this means that, whilst Spaniards are only actually on the job and paid for the standard 7-8 hours, their days are very long and they are unproductive simply because they are tired and have no home life.
Shops staying open until 8.30pm can be a real bonus, although the downside is the long shut-down in the middle of the day.

Workers hardly see their children and where both work, it is usually the grandparents who do the school runs.
Parents cannot oversee their kids doing their homework or become involved with their schooling.
They cannot take evening classes or go to after-work sports, or leisure classes as these tend to start at 8pm or 9pm and prime-time TV programmes, including League football matches, start at around 10pm or 11pm.

The average Spaniard, with or without the 20 minute post-lunch siesta, barely gets seven hours’ sleep a day.

Spain’s working hours have barely been questioned by employees since anyone below retirement age has never known anything different. Some say they would not want to change their hours, as they would miss their leisurely lunch, but these are mainly the workers able to go home for that time and they have not factored in the advantages of getting home earlier in the evening and having five or six hours of family time and leisurely evening meals.

Spain Needs 21st-Century Office Hours

Spain’s working hours are based on the Franco era when two-thirds of the active population, in what was then practically a third-world country, were in the agricultural industry. Now, a modern, forward-looking European Union nation in which, outside the tourism belts where the catering sector is the main job provider, the majority work in retail or in offices, Spain needs 21st-century hours which fit in better with the rest of Europe.

Back to GMT After 74 Years?

The proposed working hours’ amendment may come hand in hand with a move to put Spain back onto GMT, as it was before World War II when General Franco shifted the country an hour forward to align with his allies in Germany and Italy.

Some experts are against putting the mainland and Balearic Islands onto GMT (and BST in summer), saying Spain has got used to its eternal jet-lag after 74 years, that the key is to adjust the daily grind to fit in with ‘natural’ time and all it would achieve would be that it gets dark earlier.

Most of mainland Spain is in the western half of the GMT zone: the Greenwich Meridian line runs through the villages of Pego and El Verger, in northern Alicante province. Getting dark earlier may sound gloomy, but the IESE Business School says it would encourage an earlier finish to the working day and make employees more inclined to go to bed earlier, giving them more sleep and, with both factors combined, making Spain more productive but with three times as much leisure time