Getting to know the person behind the colleague


Getting to know colleagues, their culture and background isn’t always easy, especially in the production department. Through our “buddy” program in Hoboken, two colleagues from different backgrounds, generations and cultures are paired together to support each other at work. The pilot not only resulted in an energy boost for the colleagues concerned, but also created opportunities for them to learn about what they do and how to deal with differences.

Bringing people together from different generations

Jeoffrey Van den Vyver, oven operator, took part in the project and highly recommends it: "It is remarkable to experience how mutual appreciation is given an enormous boost, simply by deliberately taking the time to get to know the person behind the colleague. We work together for about 40 hours every week and yet we don't really know each other.”

"This project came out of a global training program within Umicore that I recently took part in," says Kelly, head of department at the Smelter. "Together with six colleagues with different backgrounds from different business units and sites in Belgium and China, we decided to organize two pilot projects. One was rolled out in China and focused on dealing with cultural differences. The other one was arranged at Hoboken and initially aimed to bring colleagues of different generations closer together."  

Understanding generation diversity is essential for constructive collaboration and a good working atmosphere

The shop floor in Hoboken was the perfect place to do the pilot as there are currently four different generations working together, each with their own characteristics, qualities and expertise. “At the Smelter, about half of the colleagues are Millennials, the generation born after 1984. It is striking to note that this generation is bringing about more change than previous ones. They look at things in a remarkably different way. For example, from a young age, they are much more proficient with technology, they value flexibility more, and they consider commitment and self-development very important.” Understanding what each generation stands for and what it values is essential for constructive collaboration and a good working atmosphere.

Kelly asked for volunteers to set up the program: "We had a number of volunteer colleagues get better acquainted with each other in groups of two. In each case, a Millennial was paired with a colleague from another generation.” Once they had been paired, they were not given a specific assignment. The goal was to allow them a little freedom. They simply had to 'take the time to get to know each other better'.

Learn from each other's experiences

The reactions were incredible. “Colleagues got to know the person behind the colleague - and because of Covid, in many cases the person behind the mask - better. They also discovered that they could learn a lot from each other's experiences, the younger ones learning from the older ones and vice versa.

"Making a deeper connection like this, even for a relatively short time, strengthens the bond at work. People interact and work together more constructively, with more trust, appreciation and mutual respect."

So this is not the end of the project, Kelly assured us: "We're going to keep doing this. The group work has ended, but we definitely want to keep the project in the Smelter going. It's too valuable to let go. We will also be looking to integrate this further in the plant. We want many more colleagues to experience the positive effects it has."