Depending on your home country, the business culture in Spain could be dramatically different from what you are used to. Many aspects of Spanish culture can come as a shock to people from countries in northern Europe, the UK, or the US. Some prospective expat business owners may be able to insulate themselves somewhat from this culture shock by virtue of the size and type of company they run, but it is impossible to be completely immune to bureaucracy when starting a business in Spain.
This article will briefly discuss what is the business culture in Spain; this sort of knowledge will be essential if you ever need to form business partnerships with Spaniards or hire Spanish employees. As for the abundant paperwork that is involved in setting up a branch of your business or a new company, it is always helpful to consult a lawyer specializing in business law in Spain.
What is the business culture in Spain?
One of the most obvious differences between the business culture of Spain and that of other countries is how it handles time. We’ve all got 24 hours in a day, but the way that those hours are allocated to different tasks here can take some getting used to. The work day tends to be longer and divided into two parts, separated by a long lunch break and sometimes punctuated by a coffee break or two. Gradually, some larger companies are shifting towards a more typical 9-5 schedule, but it is still common to see a workday begin at 9 o’clock a.m. and end around 8 o’clock p.m., with a long lunch from 2 to 5 o’clock.
Additionally, southern European countries in general are widely viewed as being more flexible when it comes to scheduled appointments and deadlines, so it may be helpful to mentally prepare for tardiness in most aspects of life in Spain. However, when it comes to the business culture in Spain, it’s best to play it safe and always arrive on-time for your meetings and appointments with Spanish businesspeople, at least until you get to know each person better and understand what their personal philosophy on punctuality is.
In any case, try to avoid scheduling appointments during this long midday break, unless you are planning a business lunch. Business culture in Spain is full of lunches and dinners, almost always at a restaurant, and is a way to strengthen relationships. Most of the time, serious business matters are not discussed until the end of the meal, when coffee is served.
Hierarchy in the business culture of Spain
In general, business culture in Spain remains quite traditional and hierarchical, with clear divisions between management and workers. Many executives retain sole decision-making power in their companies, and subordinates are usually expected to report problems to their superiors rather than trying to handle a tough issue solo. Similarly, in business negotiations, a person will usually be in communication with someone with a comparable rank at the other company. If the matter needs to be escalated, it should be done by the person’s manager or supervisor; it would not be appropriate for the person to approach a higher-ranking individual at the other company.
Despite the formal hierarchy, from a UK or US perspective, business meetings and relationships can seem casual or even boisterous. Small talk about personal matters is not uncommon, and people often talk over each other, which is actually a sign of interest and enthusiasm, rather than rudeness. Spaniards often stand close to one another, and physical touch is common. But don’t let this trick you into committing any faux pas—keep interactions formal until you are invited to do otherwise. If you speak Spanish, this means using the formal usted and referring to colleagues as señor or señora, followed by their surname. If you are on a first-name basis with a person who has a compound name, e.g. María José, use the full name until your relationship is close enough for abbreviations, e.g. Mariajo.
Similarly, the dress code in Spanish business culture is usually formal and elegant. The way you present yourself is a key element of the overall first impression a Spanish businessperson will get of you.