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Work Life Balance in Spain

You're in Spain, RelaxThere is a great lie about the Spanish people that they only have leisure time, that they don’t work and that they are always on siesta. Work Life Balance in Spain is thought to actually not include “Work“. In many places the image of the Spaniard is having a siesta underneath a cactus (But then again Mexico and Spain are easy to confuse aren’t they? ;-))

A little known fact is that the Spanish work the longest hours of any country in Europe, whether that is productive time is questionable, but the basic fact is correct. Therefore the average Spanish person needs to think carefully about what they do with their spare time because when you start work at 9 or 10 in the morning and don’t finish until 8 in the evening there aren’t that many hours in the day left.

You're in Spain, Relax

You’re in Spain, Relax

Leisure in Spain can be divided into various areas; family time, friends’ time and activities. Unfortunately like the rest of the world Spain has a bad addiction and that is to bad television. Apparently people in Spain are known to watch an average of 4 hours per day of TV. That is an extraordinary amount of time to be watching total rubbish, because, let’s face it, that’s what it is. However, luckily for us that time is reducing in the last few years, other types of screen are taking over, and the Spanish are giving over more time to other activities. Let’s look at them in turn.

Family and Meal Time

Spanish families tend to be very close. The family meal is still pretty sacrosanct in the Spanish family and everyone will gather for the midday or evening meal and rather than just stuffing the food down, they will sit and discuss life, the Universe and everything and come up with the answer of 42.

One of the activities that the Spanish enjoy most is the “Sobremesa” which is the period spent around the table after a meal shooting the breeze. They do it with family at home but even more so with friends while out. This is where the Spanish reputation for long mealtimes comes from. Not for them a ten minute sandwich at their desk, Spanish lunches can easily run to two or even three hours. That period in work after lunch between 5 and 8 isn’t quite as productive as a result.

An extension of this is the weekend family picnic, barbecue or paella (In the Valencia region) If you are invited to one expect it to start at around 1pm and finish sometime after dusk.

Remember that Spanish families often stay very close geographically too so huge family gatherings involving all generations of the family are not only common but also the essential glue that binds the family together.


Time with friends usually revolves around cafes, bars and sports, often combined into one. The bars always have the digital TV subscription to the sports channels and whenever there is a big football match, basketball game, cycling tour, handball or any other event that the bars will fill with groups of friends to watch the game and harangue the referee while questioning their parentage. The weird thing is that the bars often empty totally as soon as the match finishes, no post match discussion (Tertulia) unlike other countries.

Other activities with friends of course include meeting up for sports, whether that be tennis, padel, cycling, football, gym or whatever. Sport plays a large part in Spanish life as can be seen through the exceptional facilities that even most small towns have. Also you can view huge numbers of Spanish people keeping fit, jogging, doing Pilates or just generally showing off their new sports gear, they love lycra even if their bodies don’t, in any city park on any night of the year. The benign climate helps of course but sport is seen as a way to get out, enjoy yourself and meet others.


The Spanish are not as great culture vultures as they used to be, piracy of films is rife due to the high cost of cinema for example (21% VAT on ticket sales anyone?) and many, many cinemas are closing down all around Spain. Theatre is suffering in the same way with honourable exceptions and concerts are becoming fewer and fewer by the big artists as the local councils’ budgets for the fiestas have been slashed and therefore there is a different more community emphasis within the fiestas themselves.

Fiestas still rank high on the activity front and nobody would dream of missing the fiestas in their own town which of course are always the best in Spain. Most fiestas are organised well in advance, oftentimes during the whole year in advance and starting the day after the previous ones have finished.

What’s the Point?

Well, Spain has just been named as the second best place in the World to live for Work Life balance, just losing out to Denmark in first place (See the table below) So despite the long working day the Spanish in general do know how to enjoy themselves and make the most use of their time when they are not working.

Work Life Balance in Spain

Work Life Balance in Spain

So, the question is “When will you be joining them in living a better lifestyle?”

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You're in Spain, Relax