Spain tries to speed up — by putting siestas to bed

The World
A woman talks on her cellphone on a bus in Madrid.

A woman talks on her cellphone on a bus in Madrid.

Juan Medina

Here’s a typical day for an office worker in Spain: Arrive at 9 a.m. Midmorning, pop down to a cafe for a coffee and small sandwich. Work until 2 p.m. Head home for lunch — by the way, nowadays, hardly anyone takes a siesta. Then, be back to work by 4 p.m. to get out by 7 p.m. Eat dinner at 10 p.m., and watch TV until midnight or later.  

“It’s a long day,” said Barcelona lawyer Arnau Martí, still at his desk past 8 p.m. on a recent weekday.

Compared to America’s 9-to-5 workday and hurried desk lunches, Spain’s later and more leisurely schedule might seem relaxing, the picture of healthy Mediterranean life. But the Spanish government sees the country’s 9-to-7 — or later — business hours as a health hazard: stressful, depressing and family-unfriendly. So, even though 7 out of 10 working Spaniards say they’re satisfied with the workday the way it is, the government is trying to speed it up and shorten it.

It’s developing a plan to get people to do everything earlier — work, eat, watch TV, sleep. The government is even trying to roll the clocks back an hour so the sun rises sooner. The goal? A less tired, more efficient and relaxed Spain, in sync with the rest of Europe.

That all sounds good to Gemma Bochaca Royo, a small-business owner and mother of two. She and her husband usually work until 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. Their kids are in after-school activities until 6 p.m., which leaves the family’s schedule out of sync by a couple of hours.

“It’s not well-organized,” she said. “It’s not well set up.”   

But even change Spaniards are in a hurry for won’t come quickly. The most concrete plan for better work-life balance — from Spain’s northeastern region of Catalonia — asks the 110 companies and unions that have signed on so far to shorten the workday by 2025.

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