Spain spent the last 76 years in the wrong time zone—and it’s not healthy for workers

Controlling time.
Controlling time.
Image: Reuters/Susana Vera
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Nazism may not make for ideal mealtime discussion, but in Spain it’s the reason why people eat dinner in the dark.

Visitors to the country are drawn to the laid back Mediterranean vibe, a seemingly wayward rhythm of life that has people at work by 9am, lunching for two hours by 2pm, and eating dinner after the sun has set. Indeed while many other chefs in the Western world are closing shop, Spanish chefs are still working through the heat of supper. To an outsider, this routine is seems exotic—but how it came about and how it has since affected the workforce is nothing to envy.

For the better part of the last 80 years Spaniards have been living in the wrong time zone, BBC Travel reports. The country may sit along the same Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) line as the United Kingdom and Morocco, but in 1941 it switched to Central European Time (CMT). That’s because general Francisco Franco decided to adopt the same timezone as then-Nazi Germany as a sign of solidarity with Adolf Hitler.

After the war had ended, Spain didn’t switch back to GMT. The change didn’t cause the Spanish to change their routines, they just found themselves suddenly eating dinner an hour later than usual. The long lunches push the Spanish workday until about 8pm, which sets dinnertime around 9pm or 10pm (prime-time television begins around 10:30pm).

The especially long days have caused a noticeable imbalance for swaths of the Spanish population, one of the reasons prime minister Mariano Rajoy in April 2016 proposed switching back to GMT, thus ending the workday around 6pm, as a means of facilitating better working conditions. It has since become part of the national conversation, as people weighs the pros and cons of ending the workday at 6pm. Some have expressed concern that it would hurt business; after all, tourists are one of the reasons shopkeepers keep their doors open well into the evening.

Margarita Mayo, a professor of organizational behavior at IE Business School in Madrid, led a team of researchers in a project that analyzed 3,262 employees across 70 companies to explore the business outcomes that came along with more more flexible working hours.

“The preliminary results, presented at the Academy of Management Conference in 2015, showed that work-life support policies give employees a sense of control over their work time, which in turn improves their reported work-life balance as well as financial indicators of firm performance,” she reported.

Mayo has used those findings to back up the effort of the Spanish prime minister and the entire concept of changing Spain’s labor hours to “give employees more control over when they go home.”