New laws could see the Spanish finishing work at 6pm, and scrapping their afternoon snooze. For many, however, the changes will have little impact on working, social and family life
News that the Spanish government plans to outlaw the siesta will have little impact on the majority of Spaniards, whose only opportunity to take a midday nap is when they’re at home at the weekend. While the tradition persists in rural areas, most city dwellers work too far from home to take a siesta, unless you count nodding off at your desk.
However, what acting prime minister Mariano Rajoy is proposing would have a significant impact on Spaniards’ working, social and family life. Multinationals have tended to impose a standard 9-5 working day, but the majority of Spaniards still work a long day split into two parts: from 8 or 9 until 2pm, and from 4.30 to 8pm. In between, people use the break to take a long lunch with friends or to shop, as the big chain stores don’t close in the middle of the day.
The siesta was designed to give agricultural workers a break during the hottest part of the day, but Spain is less and less an agricultural and rural economy. Besides, olives, the principal crop in the hot south, are harvested between October and January.
The proposal to end the working day at 6pm is intended, above all, to have an impact on productivity, which is notoriously low, and on the negative effects that the long day has on family life. As they don’t get home till after 8pm, people eat late and go to bed late – very late in summer. As a result, Spain is a nation of the underslept.
The school day mirrors the working day, although it isn’t quite as long. Children start early, break from around 1.30pm till 3pm and then go back until 5pm. Parents who can’t afford school meals – an increasing number – have to make four trips a day to deliver and collect their children.
For working parents, there is a three-hour gap between when school and work ends. This means – if grandparents aren’t available to cover – paying for childcare. Increasingly, schools are introducing an 8am-2.30pm day both to save money and because research shows that Spanish children spend more hours in school than the EU average while achieving poorer results.
More and more people, especially working parents, are opting for flexitime arrangements to avoid the split day. However, employers remain suspicious of homeworking, and the culture of calentando sillas (seat warming) prevails. This assumes that you must be present in the workplace in order to work.
Whatever happens, the fact is that a 26-minute siesta, as recommended by Nasa, is good for your health and for productivity. However, the Spaniards who are most likely to be able to take one are among the nearly five million unemployed. And until the government can find them a job, it won’t much matter when the working day begins or ends.
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