A question for ya: Work culture in Latin America

Later this month I’m speaking at an HR conference in Guatemala (and possibly also in Nicaragua – details are still being worked out).

The conference web site is here and there’s an article on it here (in Spanish).

Which gets me thinking: I know too little about work culture in Latin America. What’s it like. Do you know?

Are people generally happy at work? What’s the mood like in a typical workplace? Are managers very authoritarian or more laid back? Do workplaces take their cues from North America or do they look to other parts of the world? Who are the business heroes in Latin America?

8 thoughts on “A question for ya: Work culture in Latin America”

  1. I don’t know much about corporate work culture there, but my experiences with a social organization in Honduras is that people are willing to work long hours, there is a very hierarchical organization structure where managers are very authoritarial. This leads to the fact that lower level employees don’t dare to step up and introduce new ideas and don’t really feel responsible for anything else besides the instructions they have got from their supervisor.

    Hope this helps and good luck with your presentation. I just left Guatemala, otherwise I sure would have liked to come!

  2. depends of the country but the “management style” turn around the informality, is very frecuent at small and medium business “extreme work days” (working long hours daily is a constant), The chief (business owner) has not concience about balance between work life and private life or personal life, the situation is not in all companies but the impact is general, only big companies or companies focused on human beings before money (obviusly a company exist to make money but its mision must be some different, transcend money to people and enviroment… happy persons = happy companies

  3. Alex

    I’ve been following you for some time and I always have found your insights quite interesting.

    I am an international hotel manager, born in Mexico, and I can offer you some insight of working in Mexico and also in the Dominican Republic. My professional experience also covers Cuba, but about that, we can definetly say that NO ONE is happy at work there, including the foreign staff.

    The hierarchical structure definetly tends to be quite authoritarian. I think that if you want to succed in both, Mexico and the DR, you must have a combination of strong authority on the one hand and paternalism on the other. In Mexico, this goes back to the indigenous roots and then the conqueror times, in the DR, all indigenous people were exterminated and then replaced with slaves. Of course, societies have evolved and now, consciously, no one is thinking about that or looking at you as the savior, but sometimes you have to push people around to make things happen a little harder than in other countries, a little bit of the stick and the carrot, if you know what I mean…

    If you are working with “front line people” this how it goes. If you are working with educated people, in a corporate environment, it is better that you leave them their “breathing space” and lead according to each person. Some need closer supervision than others. Some need none at all and will certainly feel insulted if you control them too much.

    I would say in Latin America people tend to relate hapiness to how well they can keep their families with the product of that job in the first place, and then how well are they treated in the second place. For wellness of treatment, I mean to say, how you relate to your reports. People would want a boss that is nice, polite but firm, rather than a despot, no matter how much you pay. In fact, while working in Cuba, I was working with a Spanish corporation that paid me remarkably well but the Spanish boss was a total tyrant. I was so unhappy and stressed out all the time, reading your book first made me lose the fear of losing the job, then it finally inspired me to quit.

    To sum it all up, the lesser the education, the stronger/authoritarian leadership to have. The more education, then you have to adopt more the participative style. Hapiness is measured in terms of FAMILY HAPINESS more than PERSONAL HAPINESS. People don’t expect and never heard of hapiness at work the way it’s done in Denmark, or at Google’s HQ’s, A combination of fair pay plus fair treatment will mean happy. If your concept of Hapiness at Work is to be introduced in Lat Am, it would be a tremendous change and a big advantage to the companies that decide to adopt it, a big progress in the paradigm of doing business.

    When are you coming to Mexico?


    Alvar Ojeda

  4. Alex,
    I lived in Nicaragua for several years. It is the poorest country in our hemisphere next to Haiti. The job market in Nicaragua is extremely competetive since employement is so limited. Generally speaking, those who are employed are very hard working, they know they may be replaced at any given moment if they were to make even the slightest mistake. Also, from my perspetive, Nicaraguans look to Cuba and follow many of their leads.

  5. My husband is a Colombian citizen who moved to the US to marry me. He was in University Administration work which is a bit less “corporate” perhaps, but many of the same observations hold true. In the part of Colombia where my husband worked, there was a work day structure where there is a fairly long mid-day break/lunch (from about 12-2). Some of the upper level folks took advantage of this longer lunch, but most, especially secretaries and lower level folks were given less (or even no) break in the middle of the day. Furthermore, most employees worked at least 10 hour days, even those who did not take this 2 hour break in the day.

    Management style, in my experience, is always very top down and authoritarian.

    Looking forward to the report on this trip!

  6. Hi Alex,
    I’m argentinean but currently living in the US. Nice blog you got here. I’d say that work culture will vary between company and company, but if I have to mention some differences, ie: when comparing it to US culture, I would go for accountability, social relationships and access to “most valued jobs”.
    My first culture shock experience here in the US was seeing how OCD this culture is. Wait! It’s not a bad thing in this case. Over here, a deadline for the 21st doesn’t mean that you can turn you work in on the 30th. Protocols are more strict as well and people are inclined to play “by the book” whereas in Argentina, the tendency is to bend the rules. I think it’s also a general trait for both societies as a whole, independently of the work environment.
    With regards to relationships, I would say that work relationships easily transform into personal relationships in the southern hemisphere. It is more common to share off-work spaces with your workmates in AR than in the US.

    Lastly (I know I’m starting to bore people), access to “valued jobs” is less democratic in Argentina than the US. In order to get that job, you need to have contacts. There’s no equal opportunity employment policy as far as I know. In fact, interview questions that over here are considered offensive and sometimes illegal, are perfectly normal in my country. Examples: questions about age, marital status and personal/family life are socially accepted. Eco-evaluations (where the interviewer visits the candidate’s home) are in decline but still well alive.

    Those are my two cents.

    Keep it up!

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