|Working Environment in L.A. and Scandinavia|
... Legal and Cultural Diversity
By Marcela Berse
If you are from Scandinavia trying to do business in Latin
America or vice versa, please read this article with my
insights gained from a long acquaintance with both cultures.
If you are neither of the former but you interact either
with Scandinavian business partners or employees, or
contacts from Northern Europe in general, or with Latin
Americans you might find useful information too!
After I finished my graduate studies in Argentina as a
Computer Engineer, I immigrated to Sweden to have an
international working experience. Surprisingly, what started
as a 1-year work exchange lasted for 8 years. The first
years where tough with continuous learning of the
professional activities together with the language. It also
involved Scandinavian culture and their particular way of
Two years ago I returned to settle back in Argentina. I have
to admit that getting used to my original life style here
was also a challenge having already adapted to living in a
Sweden: Corporate business normal working hours are
between 8:30-17:30. Almost everybody leaves the office
around 17:30. Working overtime is your own decision. It is
really an exception, and very well appreciated. You almost
never work on weekends. Working time is 40 hours a week.
Argentina: You start working around 9:00 but you never
know when you go home. That is the rule. The customer can
phone you at any time in the evening asking for an urgent
report or an unexpected meeting. It is quite common to work
on weekends. Working time is officially 45 hours a week.
S: Salary level is standardized, linked to your
graduation date and the kind of position you have in the
company. Statistical information on salary levels is well
documented and provided by the labor unions. The Unions
support their members in their negotiations to help them get
a more successful career path. However, if you are not a
member of the Union, you don't have access to this
information and you often get a lower salary offer. If you
want more you have to fight for more. There are always
special deals if you are wise enough to find them.
You are not supposed to talk about your salary among your
colleagues and they are really astonished at you if you ask
them how much they earn.
A: The standard salary level is linked to the position
you hold in the company, and it is basically based on the
degree of responsibility. Therefore apparently similar
positions in different companies have a wide range of
salaries range. Your negotiation skills are very important
for increasing your salary, especially nowadays, with the
huge devaluation of the peso, coupled to the high
Friends and close co-workers (yes, co-workers can be close
too) freely talk about how much they earn.
S: Taxes are proportional to your salary level.
Therefore a salary increase might, in the end, not appear to
make a big difference in actual income. However, during my
last years in Sweden I learned to appreciate other benefits,
like tax-free travel allowances.
A: There is a basic fixed tax charged to every salary,
and only the income tax scales from a minimum cutoff level,
and increases proportional up to a maximum salary, after
which the tax remains constant. Nevertheless, the taxation
of income in Argentina is substantially lower than in
Sweden. On the other side one must reckon that public
services in Sweden are much better than in Argentina, so
there is a tradeoff.
S: By law the minimum amount of vacation you can take is
5 weeks per year if you get paid for overtime. If you do not
get paid for the overtime you work then you take 6 weeks per
A: There are different collective work agreements
regulating the vacation periods. The basic rule is to
consider 1 day of vacation per month worked, up to 12
months. Up to five years in the same company gets you 2
weeks per year. Between 6 to 10 years with the same company
usually means 3 weeks a year and after that, if you still
work for the same company you get a month per year. Of
course, there are some deals and exceptions depending on the
particular agreement stated in your working contract.
S: The maternity/paternity leave is a full-time leave for up
to 18 months per birth (12 months at 90% of your salary and
the following 6 months at a standard maternity allowance.
One has the possibility to choose part-time working. For
example, one may prefer to work 50% of the time (4 hours a
day), so the benefit will extend for a full 36 months
period! The maternity leave is for either parent, the mother
or the father, so they have the freedom to decide what is
best for themselves and their child or children. The most
common situation is that the mother takes a full time leave
and the father is obliged to take as a minimum one month of
leave (otherwise the parents lose one month allowance!)
A: The maternity leave is for the mother and it lasts
for 3 months. It may start one month before estimated
delivery date. Some mothers (the few who can afford it!) may
get an additional 3 or 6 extra months without income. The
father only gets 3 days to be able to be with the family
during the delivery days.
Commuting between home and Work
S: Normally people take public transportation to the
office. The system is scheduled, clean and safe. People
usually read during the trip. The trip is easy and according
to plan, except in wintertime, when heavy snow can cause
traffic delays in the traffic flow.
A: Traffic is heavy in Buenos Aires and in most Latin
American Capital cities. Driving from downtown to work might
be an exhausting experience, with long traffic-jams. Public
transportation is not scheduled, but is very frequent.
Busses and trains in the morning and evening hours are quite
congested. The economical crisis in the region makes public
transportation less safe every day.
S: The environment is serious and silent. People work at
their desks, normally in private offices. Privacy is very
important. There are coffee machines in the corridors and
people normally take a short coffee break in middle-morning
and another one in the afternoon, with the other team
members. Each floor includes a Sovrummet (a bedroom) where
you can lay down and relax if you need to: perfect for
pregnant women or when you are simply not feeling well!
A: The climate in the office is quite noisy. Normally
the offices are shared, big rooms divided in cubicles.
During working hours people talk a lot about private life.
There is no specific time for coffee breaks.
S: Supportive and delegative. The decision making
process is based on consensus.
A: Directing (some times even dictatorial). During these
last years this has been changing due to managers having a
working experience abroad, which is bringing a more
participative style of work.
S: People are sharp with their schedules. Meetings
arranged at a certain time start in general 2 minutes after
the time. Five minutes overtime is seen as very late. While
after 10 minutes the door is closed and you cannot get in.
A: People arrive usually late at meetings. Meetings will
usually start somewhere between 15 and 45 minutes late.
Meetings usually do not have ending times, so this
introduces delays in your schedule for the rest of the day.
When do we need to solve this?
S: If you ask for something (whatever) from a colleague,
he or she will solve the issue right away, if possible.
A: When you ask something from colleague, he or she will
leave it for tomorrow ¨MAÑANA¨ unless you demand an
S: People dress comfortably and with discretion. Usually
Fridays and most of the summer is casual dressing. If you
are not supposed to meet customers, you can even wear
BERMUDAS and sandals if you wish, it is OK. The ¨Sueco¨
shoes (with plastic or wooden soles) are very common for
A: You dress elegant and formal, even if you do not meet
customers. Suits for female and male employees are
mandatory. The globalization has arrived with the Casual
Friday and even, casual summer in some companies.
Being a woman
S: The superwoman culture appears to have originated in
Sweden! Women are considered strong and very well respected.
There is no difference in treatment; everything is based on
relationships between equals.
A: Well, it is better to understand that it is not
precisely an advantage to be a woman at work in Argentina or
Latin America in general (see the May 2002 newsletter ¨
Women in Management in Latin America
¨). Anyway, again, thanks to globalization,
things are beginning to improve for us.
S: When you meet someone you get 100% of his/her
attention. If your manager calls you for a meeting, he or
she will close the door of the office and will transfer
incoming phone calls to the secretary.
A: We are multitasking Latin America. It is totally
natural. Your manager, while talking to you, might be at the
same time reading some e-mails or answering the phone.
The intention of this article is to summarize the most
relevant differences between both working environments, if
only from my personal experience.
Regardless of the differences, both countries are excellent
places for business, with clever and senior professionals.
In both cases, the results are achieved on time and are of
acceptable quality. My experience of living in both cultures
has been enormously enriching
I dream of the perfect working place ;-), combining the
Scandinavian excellent capacity for planning and
organization with the Latin talent for improvisation,
problem solving and adaptation to change. Globalization is
already doing part of the job when forcing us all to work
together and thus learn from (and about) each other.
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