Spain has cultivated a distinct culture and set of traditions over its storied national history, and in the 20th century, one of the most notable traditions that emerged was the Spanish siesta. I was exposed to this cultural practice from my first day in Spain, when I realized that even during weekdays, most shops and restaurants are closed from around 2-5 PM (a profound contrast from the 24-7 culture I experienced in much of Southeast Asia). The siesta exemplifies a commonly held view of Spaniard’s casual attitude toward labor (it is oftentimes supplemented by a morning coffee/brunch break around 11 AM), but in fact has Roman origins, as Romans would break midday to eat and nap. It was adopted by Spain in the post Spanish Civil War period in the 1940s, as a necessary measure given the struggling Spanish economy. Many people needed to work two jobs to make ends meet, one in the first half of the day and another in the second half, which typically lasted until 8 PM. The midday break offered a window to rest or travel between the jobs. This break has stuck around in concept only and has evolved into a lunch break; although shops are closed during these midday hours across Spain, a reported 60% of Spaniards never take a siesta nap. The conflation among English-speaking media between this lunch break and the traditional siesta has drawn frequent criticism by the Spanish media.
With this tradition in mind, and my preconceived notion of the casual Spanish work ethic, I set out to explore the effects of this attitude on the Spanish business world and by extension the startup village. I learned that in reality, while Spaniards do place a large emphasis on lifestyle quality, they are also incredibly hard working. The average Spaniard worked 1,695 hours in 2016, more than German, French, and British workers. Despite an extended midday lunch break, many Spanish workers stay in the office until at least 8 PM, and a culture of extended working hours has grown in the wake of the recent national recession.
Late working hours have become so prevalent that in April 2016, the Spanish prime minister publicly encouraged employers to shorten the workday to be in line with the rest of Western Europe. Spanish work culture is no different within Spanish startups. Balvinder Powar, an Associate Professor at the prestigious I.E. Business School in Madrid and startup advisor, shared that the young generation of Spanish tech startup employees employ the same motivation and drive as their equivalents in Silicon Valley. Furthermore, Spanish startups are able to draw skilled local and foreign talent because of the desirable Spanish lifestyle and cheap cost of living. But once the talent arrives, they get working. The Spanish siesta seems to be a legacy of the past which is maintained culturally but does not impact startup productivity.