IESE Insight
Shortening the Work Day in Spain
ICWF - Centro Internacional Trabajo y Familia
Artículo basado en: España, en hora europea
Año: 2005
Idioma: Spanish

Working hours determine the way we use our time; time being a scarce, inelastic and irreplaceable resource. Since time is "man-made," it should be adapted to the needs of society at any given moment. Paradoxically, working hours have not kept pace with the radical changes in society over the last 50 years.

And there are more paradoxes in the way we work: Working hours are shorter than in previous decades; the retirement age has dropped; life expectancy is steadily rising; and people are spending longer in school before joining the labor force. Yet, in the 21st century, citizens of the developed world, especially those in large cities, feel pressed for time. Daily life has become an obstacle race. A substantial part of this tension or stress comes from not being able to accomplish everything.

Sponsored by the "Instituto Nacional de Administraciones Públicas" (National Institute of Public Administrations, or INAP), the "Fundación Independiente" (Independent Foundation) and IESE´s International Center of Work and Family have published the white paper "España, en hora europea" ("Bases for the Rationalization of Spanish Working Hours"). The document's authors highlight the differences between Spain and the rest of Europe. They then analyze how Spain's current long working hours add to the society's problems, and they propose how the negative effects could be mitigated.

At the beginning of the 20th century, working hours in Spain were similar to those in the rest of Europe. The custom of having a very late lunch took root gradually over a period of decades. Today, while Spain's neighbors to the north have already digested their meal, the lunch hour in Spain is just beginning and often it lasts not just an hour but hours. Such a lengthy meal makes it difficult for employees and managers in Spain and other European countries to make arrangements between midday and 4 p.m. This naturally damages trading relations, since several daily working hours are basically lost.

In Spain, the evening meal tends to be much later, peak TV viewing is later, and people tend to sleep less. Yet, the working day starts at much the same time as in other countries. These daily habits have multiple repercussions, including a higher incidence of industrial accidents.

The white book calls for a change of culture. Companies should set goals and focus on results, rather than relying on time, attendance control and employee workaholism.

Company executives and supervisors should set an example by finishing work on time and going home, so that their subordinates are encouraged to do the same. An earlier study by IESE's International Center of Work and Family, involving companies in the Madrid area, showed that employees do not take advantage of flexible working policies to reconcile work and family life. The reason is not so much because their company does not have such policies (however limited in scope) as because the policies clash with the dominant corporate culture and are "frowned upon" by the managers themselves.

Less Regulation, More Flexibility
Working hours cannot be rationalized without changing people's daily routine, so it cannot and must not be done by government decree. "Rather the opposite: government should provide a basic framework that gives companies the flexibility to adopt different policies and specific actions," the authors contend.

In their opinion, government regulation of shop opening hours since Spain's return to democracy has been particularly erratic. They recommend improving the situation "through packages of measures aimed at creating more flexible opening hours, while respecting the peculiarities of each business and leaving management to decide when to open or close."

The authors argue that average working hours should not be extended and that every company should establish a definite time for stopping work. In some places, this is known as a "lights out" policy. Managers must make it clear to employees that they should be able to do their job in eight or nine hours, and that if they work longer, it is not because they are better workers, but because they are slower, or waste too much time, or simply are not up to the job.

Some of the measures companies can use to reconcile family, work and personal life are flexible working hours, part-time work, a compressed work week, reduced working hours, a compressed work day or teleworking. In any case, the report concludes that having congenial working hours gives many employees more satisfaction than having a good job.

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