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Spain has most inflexible working conditions in the European Union

Jessica Jones · 2 Dec 2015, 14:29

Published: 02 Dec 2015 14:29 GMT+01:00

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The stereotype often involves starting work late, taking two-hour-long lunches and having an afternoon siesta, but Spaniards actually work some of the longest and most inflexible hours in Europe, something which is having a serious impact on work-life balance, according to a new study released on Tuesday.

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Spain is, along with Portugal, the most inflexible country in the whole of the European Union when it comes to working hours and over 60 percent of Spaniards believe inflexible hours have a negative impact on their family lives, according to the study, "Reconciling work life and family life in Spain" conducted by Spain’s Institute for Family Policies (IFP).

The study collated data from Spain’s National Statistics Institute, as well as the country’s Health Ministry and Eurostat, the EU's statistics office. 

The vast majority of Spaniards - eight out of ten - think that their long working hours have a negative impact on work-life balance, with the majority agreeing that working hours are "very strict" and "should be more flexible".

"Spanish working hours are not very conducive to parents as they do not coincide with childcare or school timetables," Liz Fleming, VP International of Spain Startup, told The Local.

"Longer lunches and later evenings don’t make a lot of sense for working parents who need to pick up kids at 4 or 5pm," she added.

"Talking about work-life balance is a utopia even today and after the elections, unfortunately, it will continue just the same."

And while companies in many northern European countries, such as the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark, allow their employees to work remotely when they need to, the concept of working from home is alien in Spain: 92 percent of Spaniards "never work from home" says the study.

"There is a clear lack of remote working culture in Spain which leaves us lagging behind in Europe, way behind countries such as Sweden, Luxembourg, the UK, Austria, France and Portugal," said Eduardo Hertfelder, president of IFP.

In the report, the IFP calls for Spain to take measures to improve work flexibility, including promoting flexible working hours, increasing parental leave and getting rid of the culture of "presenteeism" (staying late at the office for fear of not being seen to be working). 

It is not just for the sake of employees' work-life balance that companies should become more flexible; it could also be good for business.

"Flexible working hours can be an important part in attracting talent. Spain has a massive opportunity to attract international talent, but would have to adapt to suitable and flexible working conditions," said Liz Fleming.

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"In Northern Europe and the US, workers have a lot of autonomy and responsibility and are often results-driven, so the number of hours worked, when or where is not really relevant once the job gets done."

There could be a glimmer of hope on the horizon, however, as the success of Spain’s burgeoning startup sector means more companies are adopting more progressive timetables.

"Startups provide more flexibility in every sense," said Fleming, "they often can’t pay as well as bigger companies, so they attract talent by offering greater autonomy and flexibility."

For more news from Spain, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Jessica Jones (jessica.jones@thelocal.com)

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