Can one vice be considered a cultural norm in another country? I believe cultural context has a huge influence on what one believes to be ethical and what is not ethical. I am an American, who currently and has been living and working abroad for more than 5 years. This brings with it many amazing benefits, cultural experiences and sometimes even shocks. Currently, I call home Barcelona, Spain. It is a bustling city with loads of history and culture, drinking and food make up a huge part of the local culture.
I have lived and worked in the USA, Singapore, Switzerland, Mexico and now Spain…and until now I have never seen so much drinking during lunch hour. It has been a rather big shock for me, many times I struggle with it and especially at the beginning when I first arrived. In all of the places I have worked it was not common to drink at lunch, and if you were to drink it may be to celebrate something on a very rare occasion. It is highly talked and written about culture, the Spanish eating and drinking culture which also is one of its greatest attractions .But does that include during work hours, don’t we have an ethical responsibility to ensure we are preforming our best for the company?
Upon my first week working in Spain I realized that people at my company were drinking at lunch, and not on occasion but everyday. Many of my colleagues would have a beer or a glass of wine at lunch everyday and even a second…and sometimes you would see a third! It didn’t feel very ethical to me, is it possible they have vices? How can you possibly do your work well in the afternoon after a couple of drinks?
“Ethics is concerned with the kinds of values and morals an individual or society finds desirable or appropriate” (Northouse, 2015, p.330). And considering this definition and from my perspective, I would say this isn’t ethical. You are not performing your work or meeting the duty you have to your organization (PSU,2018). Could this also be a vice of the individuals? Vices are characteristics or traits, in general weakness that make individuals susceptible to making ethical violations (PSU, 2018). Could this additional drinking lead to not meeting your responsibilities to your work organization?
I, as HR, was rather concerned and began scouring the handbook and local employment law to see what risk we have. And much to my surprise, I couldn’t find anything. I thought “this can’t be right, I haven’t looked in the correct place”. So, naturally, my next step was to discuss with our labor relations specialist, and as I asked him he looked at me as if I was from another planet. And so I thought, “well, my Spanish is rusty…can it be he doesn’t understand me??” And he finally answered and told me in Spanish “of course they can have a drink if they want one, why wouldn’t they be allowed, who can tell them no!!”. His answer was so passionate and he was clearly offended by such a question.
The more I looked around the more I realized how common this was, and even see the same two gentleman eating and drinking together everyday. They actually have a ritual of sorts, they start at the café bar with a beer and then move to the table where they will have their lunch and share a bottle of wine. There lunch hour must be two or even three hours, and I struggle understanding how they still have a job within our company; and again, I ask myself if there is a vice here and maybe this isn’t ethical? Here in Spain you are being paid to work 39 hours, but you are taking extended lunch breaks and drinking at lunch as well! But, then I realize…maybe I am looking at this from my cultural lens.
There is new research that suggest that moral identity is culturally biased (Jia and Krettenauer, 2017). If moral identity is culturally biased, then that influences ethical perceptions and would make it very possible that I am probably imparting my ‘Americanisms’ onto the Spanish organization. It is a global company and we expect some global norms, but at the same time we have to realize the different local cultural nuances. So maybe I need to adopt the phrase, “when in Rome”!
Jia, Fanli and Krettenauer, Tobias (21 March 2017). Recognizing Moral Identity as a Cultural Construct frontiers in Psychology V.8. retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5359277
Northouse, P. G. (2015). Leadership: Theory and practice. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.
PSU (2018). PSY 533: Lesson 01: Ethics and Leadership. Retrieved from: https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1913945/pages/l01-overview?module_item_id=25041751
PSU. (2018). PSY 533: Lesson 02: Vices and Temptations. (Lecture Notes). Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1913945/pages/l02-overview?module_item_id=25041764