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?