The three-hour lunch breaks and siestas that have long been the envy of northern Europeans will soon be history. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has recently announced his plan of cutting the working day by two hours and put an end to the traditional siesta as we know it. “I will find a consensus to make sure the working day ends at 6pm”, he said.
The siesta was created historically for the purpose of allowing the country’s largely agricultural workers to escape the scorching midday heat. But now that much of the work has been industrialized and digitized, that break no longer serves a purpose.
Such a measure is motivated by a desire to improve Spain’s work productivity and performance and make sure it doesn’t fall behind its European counterparts. And there’s solid evidence Rajoy’s plans are a good idea.
According to data from the OECD, Spain’s longer work hours actually lead to a decrease in performance. If we look at a country like Germany, for instance, where citizens who work an average of 1,393 hours per year and produce $58 in GDP per hour of work, and then compare that with Spain’s 1,666 hours per year that produce $50 in GDP per hour of work, the need for a change becomes quite obvious.
What’s more, Spain’s National Commission for the Rationalization of Working Hours argued in a report back in 2013 that dropping the siesta could result in a higher quality of life and higher fertility rate.
Spaniards seem to agree with their prime minister’s proposal. “In my house we would be totally in favor of changing the schedules,” Cristina Matarranz, a mother of two who works at a bank in Madrid, told the BCC. “My kids virtually never see their father during the week.”
Carolina Dobrzynki, a Madrid-based single mother who works in marketing also told the BBC that half her day is wasted because clients are unavailable for long periods. “Until 10 in the morning no-one will answer, and then again from about 1.30 or 2pm it’s impossible. So I find myself setting up conversations with people between six and eight in the evening when I would much rather be in the park with my daughter”, she says.