La Ofi


Ah, la oficina—the office. So many of my fellow Americans come to Spain, desiring to escape the droll forty-hour workweek. They’re so brave. Or not. I can’t help but feel a bit of disdain for those who travel and blog, urging their readers to “Leave it all behind!”

Americans often idealize the European lifestyle, thinking that they just “get it,” because they work fewer hours, pay higher taxes, and enjoy greater health-insurance benefits. It’s not always true. For the most part, the eight-hour workday is quite common in the United States, and a few more hours aren’t so bad in the end. In Spain, the country of sun and siesta, you would expect fewer hours, more enjoyment, and a somewhat less stressful workplace. You’d be wrong.

I’d like to use a rather personal example. My husband, Mario, works at a fairly typical Spanish office in Madrid. He’s the hardest worker I know, so I don’t expect anything less of him, but he often goes in at 9:30 or 10 a.m. and leaves around 10 p.m. He arrived home at 12 a.m. two weeks ago, though, and he’s arrived at 11 p.m. more than once. It’s not atypical. He doesn’t complain, but there’s no question that this type of schedule is stressful. No matter if your job is easy or not, staying at the office for a full twelve hours isn’t healthy or fun.


Especially not if these people are your coworkers

Mario is not the exception; he’s the rule. We have another friend, a Spanish woman, who works for a national company. Having worked in another country for many years, she returned to Spain to be a big boss and earn the big bucks. That she does, but she also is under a lot of stress and works more hours than seems humanly possible.

I realize that this is all anecdotal evidence, that I’ve yet to cite proven statistics. But Mario and I, along with other friends, have formed a sort of hypothesis—Spain lacks work, yes. But the work it does have is quite poorly distributed. Those who do have a job work twelve-hour days, while those who don’t spend months and years earning nothing. Maybe they should hire more eight-hour-shift workers. Maybe then the burnout rate would drop dramatically. Who knows?

What about the Spaniards you know (maybe disregarding funcionarios)? Do they work too much?

7 thoughts on “La Ofi

  1. This is really interesting! My best friend’s boyfriend works those kinds of crazy hours too (he’s Catalan). He starts at 10, and sometimes doesn’t get home until 1 a.m. He also works Monday-Saturday.

    My Spanish friends who work in tech tend to have light summer workloads, and then heavy ones afterwards. They regularly work 10+ hours too.

    But, the other side of that is the people who have less serious jobs. My friends who work in bars or restaurants only work a couple days a week to squeak by. At my office (I’m the only non-Spaniard), some people work 8-hour days and others do 5. I work in translation/tech, but their websites are all celebrity gossip, games, and other silly stuff, so it’s definitely not a formal environment.

    Again, this is all anecdotal, but still! I think you’re right – Spain could do a better job of distributing the work hours.

  2. The same thing goes here! My husband normally arrives home at 8pm at the earliest. There is no 9 to 5 in Brazil if you have a good job. You have to work hard to keep it. At the same time, we enjoy our free hours more than our American counterparts. We take advantage of the weekend here. We go out with our kids for pizza (and beer for the parents) in the evening at 8pm. A little freedom of routine does the body good ;)

  3. When I worked in Spain years ago – for a very large government-owned company – my schedule was to work from 9-2 and from 4-7. In the summers, we worked “jornada intensiva” from 8-3, but for the rest of the year, that split schedule basically ate up the entire day – I hated the two hours mid-day to comer. Don’t get me wrong; I love the Spanish comida/cena schedule, but on a routine workday basis, it made me a little nuts.

    For what it’s worth regarding Mario’s workday, I too am a lawyer and the hours he is working are pretty typical for private practice everywhere – especially for a lawyer just starting out. I worked in NYC for awhile (typically 11-12-hour days) and in Spain for a time (I’m curious to know which firm he is with; if you’d like to share you could email me), where likewise days were long and the workload was heavy. I do hope that things even out for him at some point, though, because I agree with you that it is neither healthy nor fun to work those kinds of hours.

    1. I agree. The “jornada intensiva” makes the most sense, as the extra hour after lunch is just dead time. However, for school (and for students that can come home for lunch), I think I prefer the broken schedule with the lunch break in the middle.

      I also agree with the general premise of the post. There’s nothing lazy about employed Spaniards.

  4. Yeah, I mean, if you work more than 15 minutes from home, it’s hard to make the argument for the split days. In Mario’s hometown, his father worked at a school 5 minutes away — so the split schedule would have been nice. (As it was, it was an instituto and thus they had a jornada intensiva.)

    But working 30-45 minutes away means going home for lunch is impossible, and he’d like to get home earlier instead, ya know?

  5. To work long hours is the rule here. This, together with the insane meal schedule makes our country not at all productive. Not to talk about family life. Most foreigners on holidays don’t know about this.

  6. I used to think the same about Europe until I moved to Spain and my year in Andalucia, I thought Spaniards had it all right. Until I came back for a 2nd year and realized I was under the impression based on teacher’s schedules…

    It’s all perspective and living it or knwoing people who live it, to really know what it’s like.

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