February 18th, 2014

Spanish productivity: night and day, day and night

They’re trying to make Spain into Germany or something, to increase productivity. I don’t think they’ll succeed in changing the clock, but even if they do, will it change “productivity”? And are Spaniards any less productive than much of the rest of Europe, anyway?

“We want to see a more efficient culture,” said Ignacio Buqueras, the most outspoken advocate of changing the Spanish schedule. “Spain has to break the bad habits it has accumulated over the past 40 or 50 years.”…

Whether an earlier, more regimented schedule will translate into higher productivity is a matter of dispute. Mr. Buqueras’s group says Spanish workers are on the job longer than German workers but complete only 59 percent of their daily tasks. Measuring productivity is an imprecise science, and while many experts say Spanish productivity is too low, Spain actually outperforms many European countries in some calculations, according to Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical agency.

“These three-hour siestas don’t exist,” said Carlos Angulo Martín, who oversees social analysis at the National Statistics Institute in Madrid. Nor are habits uniform across the country, he said…

I haven’t been to Europe in quite some time, but it seems to me that Spain is hardly alone in this. I seem to recall that Italy used to have a similar schedule, and that France was the land of the leisurely lunch.

But in my not-very-extensive world travels, the country I’ve spent a bit of time in, and which I remember as having a fairly extreme version of the Spanish schedule, is Argentina. I have no idea what it’s like now, but several decades ago one could stroll on the boulevards and in the parks of a summer eve (our winter) at 11 PM and see families with young children all spiffied up and on their way to dinner at one of the ubiquitous steak houses (more like arenas) that seemed to be everywhere.

And the long leisurely lunch offers food, if not for thought, then for relaxation and conviviality:

One friend, Miguel Carbayo, 26, was appalled at the notion of a nap-free lunch. He had worked as an intern in the Netherlands, where his co-workers arrived at 8 and left at 5, with a half-hour to munch on a sandwich for lunch, a regimen he found shocking.

“Reduce lunchtime?” he said. “No, I’m completely against that. It is one thing to eat. It is another thing to nourish oneself. Our culture and customs are our way of living.”

But over time the world is becoming more and more homogenized.

13 Responses to “Spanish productivity: night and day, day and night”

  1. vanderleun Says:

    “Life is short but lunch is long.”

  2. J.J. Says:

    One of the things I always noticed in my travels in Europe was that they are much more laid back than we are. During a week in Denia, Spain we became acquainted with the owners of two restaurants that were adjacent to one another. They alternated days open. The idea was that each could each make enough for their needs by being open 3-4 days a week, so why compete? That non-compete mind set is pretty well established in the Mediterranean countries.
    Yes, they know how to live in a leisurely, laid back fashion, but in a globalized economy, does it do them any favors? I don’t think so.

    Much of South America is the same. Only been to Argentina once, but they were as you describe. They are, by the way, experiencing another of their financial crises. They keep trying to get socialism right, but mathematics keeps intruding.

    Our work practices are one reason why our demise will be prolonged. Even with stupid economic policies, we can still keep producing and staying afloat longer than the countries dedicated to a more leisurely lifestyle.

  3. Charles Says:

    Not speaking from first-hand experience; but, several years ago a friend explained the “3-hour siesta” in Spain to me.

    Yes, they take 3 hours off in the afternoon; but that means they go to work TWICE in one day and stay until after 8:00 pm for the “second shift.”

    Same hours worked in one day; but broken into two shifts. And yuck to the twice daily to work commute.

  4. Gringo Says:

    Are there regional differences in Spain? Yes indeed. The Milan-Sicily cultural contrast in Italy is paralleled with the Barcelona-Andalucia cultural contrast in Spain.

    The afternoon siesta is good practice where afternoons are very hot. Take a nap during the hot part of the day, and work when it’s cooler. When commute times between work and home are long, the siesta results in wasted commute time- twice as long. Where there is a short commute between work and home, such as in a small city, the siesta is practical. The bigger the city, the less practical the siesta becomes.

    I was also struck by seeing children outside at 11 pm in Argentina.

  5. Surellin Says:

    Hmm, according to Mr. Buqueras things started going downhill 40-50 years ago. I therefore assume that he is 60-70 years old. And behold!, googling him brings up images of an older gentleman. Maybe he’s just pining for the “good old days”? Maybe even for the Falangist good old days. Just spitballing here.

  6. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Less hard work = less productivity. Less productivity = less material abundance. Quality of life may be defined by leisure time or material abundance but a society generally cannot have both as they are to a real extent mutually exclusive.

    In Europe, Germany and Greece arguably illustrate the two cultural poles of productivity. I suspect that Germany’s winters had a lot to do with the development of Germany’s cultural work ethic. Harsh winters put a premium of ‘making hay while the sun shines’. While Mediterranean climates are naturally more amenable to a relaxed attitude toward work.

  7. J.J. Says:

    The Germans always seemed to me to be much more work oriented. Yet, in my experience, they know how to live a somewhat more relaxed lifestyle than we do. I think they have a bit more balance in their lives than Americans. But they are sticklers for accuracy and doing things right the first time.

    It’s instructive to travel around the Dolomites of Italy and see the difference between the Germanic areas and the Italian areas. The German influence results in tidier looking farms and villages with a more efficient approach to serving tourists. The Italian areas are just less tidy and vey laid back.

    Much the same is true in Switzerland where you see French, German, and Italian influences in their respective areas. I don’t know how the Swiss make it work, with three distinctly different cultural areas, but they seem to carry it off. Maybe that’s why the E.U thought it could make the bigger union work. Time will tell.

  8. parker Says:

    From fairly recent experience in Paris, La Rochelle, and Agen, the French have changed their lunch habits and do not linger for more than an hour. Dinner remains a 2 hour family affair and elementary students continue to have a one hour lunch break. What really slows down productivity is the 4 to 6 week summer vacation where virtually 80% of the population is hitting the camp grounds, hiking trails, and beaches.

  9. Ymarsakar Says:

    Productivity is about motivation and efficiency, not about whipping the farm animals to make them produce more eggs and milk. That’s not efficiency and it won’t be productive either.

  10. Don Carlos Says:

    Germans remain germanic even after generations in Argentina and Chile.

  11. Oldfyer Says:

    When I worked for British Aerospace, a colleague, another American, used to tweak the Brits by claiming that they were “10 years behind, and working 4 days a week to catch up”. They were not amused, of course.

    Even there, folks value their very long holidays. Hard to understand why, since for the middle class it usually means squeezing like sardines into a long charter flight; whisking off to the latest favored sunny resort area, where they are again crammed into warren like tourist hotels; and then lying out on jammed beaches to broil themselves. So relaxing.

    A Brazilian described their life style along the lines of “start the day late, eat much too much dinner late, drink too much late, sleep too late tomorrow and start over.”

  12. Caedmon Says:

    The differences in the working day between southern and northern Europe surely have their roots in agriculture. In Southern Europe it is too hot to work in the fields in the middle of the day, so it’s best to work and early and late and retreat to the cool farmhouse when the sun is blazing down.

    In any case time spent at work and productivity have little do with each other in any case. Here in England a professional soccer player doesn’t spend much time playing soccer, but when he does he earns an enormous amount of money for his employer and himself when he does. The reason that David Beckham is richer than me is not that I’m too lazy to work on Saturdays.

  13. blert Says:

    Actually, long hours of continuous work is entirely modern.

    It dates from the textile mills. They were the first devices that had a high fixed cost and which could be effectively serviced by drudge labor.

    Until that time, while poor, most Europeans had staggering amounts of ‘vacation time’ — while never leaving home.

    This assembly line mentality has come to consume our economic existence.

    Robotics make it quite likely that humanity will revert to its classic norm — every man an Eloi.

    (H.G. Wells never imagined the iPad, iPhone, iPod. His Eloi should’ve been immersed in virtual realities… probably backwards looking, too.)

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