Work-to-Live vs. Live-to-Work
When you arrive in Spain, you will notice that there is a different vibe going on when it comes to work. It is more acceptable to take breaks for coffee/breakfast in the morning or finish the day early (and even more so in the south of Spain). As opposed to the U.S.―where many times it feels like we only live to be able to do our jobs―in Spain many people only work the minimum to have the life that they want here-and-now. This means that most of the time they value family time over a couple of extra hours at the office, and that this perspective on life is socially accepted.
One of the main ways we can see this difference in the way of life is with the funcionarios, the people who work for the government (civil servants applied to all levels of work). The people who fill these roles work in jobs from public administration to at the post office, including teachers, doctors, police officers, etc. To be able to get a job as a funcionario, it is necessary to study for an exam called oposiciones. People usually study for one to three years to become a funcionario because not only is it hard to pass, but you also have to do well enough to get selected for a job, competing with others who take the same exam. (Now you are probably thinking that I have gone off on a tangent, explaining something that has nothing to do with the work-to-live philosophy, but bear with me a little while longer.)
It is the dream of most Spanish young people to become funcionarios, despite the horrible oposiciones. Why? Because once you have a job working for the government they cannot fire you unless something really traumatic happens. That’s right, not only will you have a government salary and access to private insurance (two other pluses), you will have a job for life! This means that many people work or would like to work in these positions, even if they are not passionate about the job. They work-to-live and they don’t have to go above and beyond their tasks in order to maintain their position.
This, in turn, has created a culture where coffee breaks are compulsory (even at my non-funcionario internship everyone has a 30 minute coffee break) and weekends are untouchable. This also means that the motivation to improve is completely linked to one’s personal desire, meaning improvement is rare in situations where people do the job simply because they have it. This can be a difficult mentality to adjust to at first. However, the flipside is that daily life (outside of work) is much more important to a lot of people than their advancement in their careers, which can be refreshing. People work to go out for cañas and to pay for holidays, but nothing extravagant, and many people don’t have the desire to change what they are doing for more. Instead, they are happy to live for the moment.
Does this mean that no one who works in these jobs is passionate about them? Absolutely not! I know teacher and psychologists and police officers who love what they do and who are constantly looking for ways to improve and do the best they can. In addition, in cities where there are not enough funcionario jobs to go around, many people are having to become innovative and create their own companies. This requires just as much work as anywhere else in the world! At the end of the day, however, there is always a high importance given to down time, to family time, to time for eating, etc.
Personally I love the work culture here. My parents work for a multinational company and get to travel around and work on some of the coolest projects. However, they also have to work long hours and are under pressure to create, innovate, and be successful in general. Although they live here in Spain, they have to work around the live-to-work mentality much more than most Spaniards do. This means that, on some level, our quality of life is higher than if they worked less, but also that sometimes we have less time together because they have to work. I’ve now seen two different ways of life, and the pros and cons that come along with those. In the future, if I can choose, I might just choose the culture that allows me to work-to-live.
What do you think? Would you choose a work-to-live culture over what you have back home?