Work in São Paulo for a month? Or in Singapore? The Employee Exchange Program enables Kulzer employees to move their workplace abroad for three to eight weeks and get to know the working environment of an international colleague better.
This is what Issei Takahashi from the Kulzer parent company Mitsui Chemicals (MCI) and Dr Christoph Meier from Kulzer did: Issei spent a month in the Research & Development department in Wehrheim/Germany, Christoph was already in Tokyo for a month in 2019. Now, after the Corona-related break, the exchange between colleagues could finally take place again. Read in this interview how the exchange has improved the everyday cooperation of the two chemists, what they reveal about the two cultures and why the exchange is a unique opportunity for every employee.
Why is the exchange program at Kulzer such a valuable initiative?
Christoph: Because it is a fantastic opportunity that you probably only get once in a lifetime. I am glad I made this decision to travel abroad and get to know my colleagues who I work with daily over a long distance. The opportunity to work closely together and get to know each other’s culture is a unique experience.
Issei: Exactly. It takes a certain amount of preparation, plus there is some paperwork to do. But in terms of renting a car or an apartment, everything was prepared and Christoph supported me, so I had a smooth start and was able to get going right after I arrived. Apart from the effort and planning: it was totally worth it. And I'm a bit lucky too, because the Christmas markets have started and I'm looking forward to them!
What was your motivation for the Employee Exchange Program?
Christoph: I started here at Kulzer in 2018 as a chemist, focusing on restorative composites and I was working very closely with Issei and his colleagues. Then I heard about the exchange program. I thought: “OK, I've never worked with Japanese people before – so why not work in Japan for once?” It was exciting for me to have the chance to do my daily work there and get to know the culture and of course the people I was working with.
Also, to improve the mutual understanding of each other because there are some cultural differences, especially in communication. We Germans communicate differently from the Japanese, and that can lead to misunderstandings in our daily work. To understand each other better not only on a technical but also on a cultural level, it might be a good opportunity to go to Japan and gain experience there. When we want to develop innovative technologies together, it is a great advantage if we – MCI and Kulzer – communicate on a common technical level, even if we come from diverse cultures.
Issei: I can agree with that one hundred percent: after I joined MCI in 2017, I soon worked with people from Kulzer and I wanted to get to know the people and the culture better. Germans are more direct in their communication; that is one of the main differences. Usually, Japanese people try to understand a hidden message when they talk to Germans, but they often say very directly what they think, and there is just no hidden message. I think that is something you must learn if you want to work together.
Christoph, your exchange was exactly 3 years ago – what do you remember from that time?
Christoph: Let me briefly explain the background: actually, the plan was to continue the employee exchange directly after my stay in Japan, which means that a colleague from Tokyo was supposed to come to Germany. And then it was March 2020 and everybody knows what happened because of the pandemic. Now, fortunately, we decided to continue.
And of course, I have learned a lot of things. There are some differences between Japanese and German culture, but also similarities. The work culture is definitely a bit different. What was impressive to me was the cleaning time on Friday. Right after the lunch break, everyone jumped up and grabbed the cleaning equipment they had in the lab and offices and started cleaning up – from the lab assistant to the group leader. It was a little strange at first; I was thinking: “OK, what happens now?” and a colleague explained to me: “We are cleaning the office now. We do that every Friday.” That was very impressive for me – I had never seen anything like that before and this was also a great OneTeam experience.
Issei: It is really a tradition for us and by having everyone from the technician to the group lead, employees also show respect for each other. A thing I find also pleasant here at Kulzer: colleagues show respect for each other and benefit from flat hierarchies.