Everything you need to know about Spanish work culture

Article by Marc Vervoort

Are you considering moving to Spain and starting a job in a Spanish company? Then there are a few things you should know about Spanish work culture. This will make it easier for you to integrate into your new Spanish workplace and avoid any major faux pas.

Spanish companies like hierarchy

In a study done across European countries about business culture, Spanish managers showed the greatest attachment to the idea of the value and need of organizational hierarchy.

You can see this love for hierarchy reflected in the bureaucracy, especially in government and family businesses. Departments tend to be strictly separated, and approval for top management is many times needed to get basic things done. If you’re negotiating with or within a Spanish company, the ultimate decision will undoubtedly need to be approved by a senior manager.

However, things are changing. Spain is not immune to globalization. Many young managers have studied and lived abroad and are bringing fresh ideas into the old boardrooms. International-oriented businesses are introducing modern management methods, like Agile, where teamwork and working across departments is more valued than a strict hierarchy.

Breakfast and lunchtime are important

In Spain, it’s usual to have a 20-minute break in the morning to enjoy your breakfast. This traditionally is a small bread and a coffee. It’s an important moment to hang out with your colleagues and to catch up.

The famous siesta of 2 or 3 hours only exists for some family businesses and individual shops. Most international companies have an hour lunch break. Yet lunchtime in Spain is probably later than what you’re used to. Typically it’s enjoyed between 14:00 and 16:00.

​​​​​​​Don’t eat alone behind your computer, even if you’re busy, but enjoy it together with colleagues. Socializing and eating go hand in hand in Spain. Lunch is a fun way to kick back and get to know your co-workers.

Dress to impress

You’ll notice that the Spanish are a well-dressed bunch. Looking good and fashion matter to the Spanish. Though don’t worry too much. If you’re working in IT, the dress code is generally informal, no suits required. Nevertheless, even in the heat of the scorching Spanish summer, if you’re a guy, short pants or sandals are definitely considered no-nos.

Be punctual (at first)

Despite its reputation for lack of punctuality, when it comes to working in Spain, you need to show up on time. Especially if you’re new. Yet, don’t be shocked if the manager comes in a few minutes later.

Meetings do tend to overrun since more time is taken for informal chit-chat. The same can be said for deadlines. It’s nice when they’re met, but often they get stretched. It also depends a lot on the business and region you work at. Northern Spain has a reputation for being more punctual than Andalusia.

Kiss when meeting but not always in business

When you meet somebody in Spain, you shake hands. If you’re a woman, or you’re meeting a woman, it’s custom to give 2 kisses on the cheek, even the first time. Well actually not on the cheeks, they’re usually more like air kisses. But watch out. This does not apply to business situations. Here things are more formal, and it’s wisest only to give a handshake. If you’re having doubts, then let the Spaniard take the initiative.

Meetings can get noisy

Spanish meetings are more informal than in many other Western European countries, and they can get loud. People talk at the same time, and it’s ok to interrupt each other. It’s not uncommon for voices to be raised or even for some shouting to take place.

Connecting on a personal level also matters in Spanish work culture. Time will be made in meetings for some informal talk. Don’t be surprised when asked about your family, your background and a genuine interest in how you are. Be prepared to get a bit more personal.

And last but not least, many times meetings in Spain are not aimed at reaching an agreement, but to communicate decisions or policies which have already been decided by senior management.

Spanish work culture is a social place

Spaniards love to socialize and hang out with friends, family, and colleagues. The line between work and social life is blurred in Spain. Colleagues will make extra time to chat with you. In general, they spend more time talking with their colleagues about non-work stuff than in many other European countries. You’ll soon see that colleagues will invite you out for lots of fun, drinks, and dinners after work. As an expat, it makes it easy to get to know new people.

Birthdays at work

If you have your birthday, it’s customary to bring snacks, sweets, and soda (no wine!) to work. You’ll usually lay these out on a table with some plates and cutlery. Your colleagues will sing for you and enjoy your snacks. It’s a quick celebration. Afterward, you’ll leave the food out there, so colleagues can come back for more and people from other departments might also pass by.

Get ready for the Christmas party

Spanish companies will almost always organize a Christmas dinner and/or party for their employees. It’s a big happening. Restaurants offer special Christmas menus for the numerous business parties. If you work at a bigger office, it’s not uncommon to have 2 Christmas parties. One with your department, which sometimes you pay for yourself, and the official company Christmas party.

Be prepared though. Even if it seems it will be a Christmas lunch, it doesn’t mean you’ll be home by 18:00, it could well be 6:00. Spaniards know how to enjoy life. After lunch, there will be drinks and dancing. Many clubs already open in the afternoon during December just for this.

Read all about Christmas at the office in Spain here.

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Spanish work culture might be different from what you’re used to, but we can assure Spain is a great place to work. Especially with our digital jobs, each located at a high-quality company.


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