E-Learning for Psychological Security

#39 Transformed through crisis – Jo Skipper, Managing Director, The Next Step (s02ep15)

Aug 19, 2022

Jo Skipper is the Managing Director of The Next Step, one of Australia's leading HR recruitment companies. Her career in recruitment spans over 20 years across the UK, Singapore and Australia. We discuss many things in this episode, including the benefit of identifying your team members' strengths, leading in this modern work environment and tips on the best way to reject someone.
"Care to me, probably encapsulates a couple of different things. It's trust. You have to trust your colleagues, trust your workmates. It's looking out for each other. It's being supportive. "
- Jo Skipper


  • How a chance interview for an insurance role at a recruitment agency in London got her started in the recruitment industry.
  • The affect of the pandemic on the recruitment sector and the very real threat of burn-out amongst their staff
  • How trailing a 4 day work week prior to the pandemic lead to the development of a 9 day fortnight.
  • The benefit of identifying your team members’ strengths
  • What it is to be a leader in this modern work environment
  • Tips on the best way to reject someone.


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Transcript from the interview

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Graeme Cowan, Jo Skipper

Graeme Cowan 0:01 

It’s a real welcome to Jo Skipper, the Managing Director of The Next Step. Welcome, Jo.  

Jo Skipper 0:18 

Thanks, Graeme, absolutely delighted to be here.

Graeme Cowan 0:22 

What does care in workplace mean to you?

Jo Skipper 0:26 

Yeah, I’ve thought about this and care to me, probably encapsulates a couple of different things. It’s trust. You know, you have to trust your colleagues, trust your workmates. It’s, it’s looking out for each other. It’s being supportive. And underpinning all of that, it’s actually having a bit of fun. You know that phrase, take what we do seriously, but not ourselves too seriously.

Graeme Cowan 1:02 

I like that. I like that. And your role is Managing Director of the Next Step, which basically is involved with HR recruitment, contracting, mentoring.

Jo Skipper 1:15 


Graeme Cowan 1:16 

What is, what is that like to run a team that works in that business?

Jo Skipper 1:23 

Yeah, it’s, um– it’s busy. You know, and I don’t want to get into that, you know, busyness, but it is busy. You know, we love to try and think that we can be strategic, but fundamentally, a lot of our work is quite reactionary. Because you’re responding to other’s needs. There’s so much variety in the work that we do. If you can imagine, I always describe– I have this fabulous role, because I get to helicopter into organizations, be a trusted partner to them for a period of time while we’re running a particular assignment, getting to know people on their, in their teams in their executive team. Understanding their business strategy, so that I can really find that right person to that’s going to make their organization more successful, not just financially, but around culture. And so, it’s a really kind of privileged role that we have, but it can, it can be very, very dynamic. You can have peaks and troughs, highs and lows. And, you know, when you’re running a team of, of recruiters, as we call ourselves, we’re generally fairly outgoing, gregarious kind of people. And with that, you know, they really do feel some of those highs and lows of the process. And so, you know, my role is to, using your word care, really make sure that we’re caring for them. Whilst there was, they’re delivering some great, great assignments to organizations that we work with.

Graeme Cowan 3:11 

Yeah, and you’ve worked in a variety of recruitment places. Could you give us a quick overview of how you start and how you got to current role now?

Jo Skipper 3:21 

Yes, of course. So sorry, it was kind of mid late 90s. Like a lot of Kiwis do I was living in, living in Auckland and jumped on a plane over to London to do the big overseas experience. I got a graduate placement with an insurance company in New Zealand. So, I landed in London, in those days opened up the Tea and Tea Magazine to find out where an insurance if there ever was one and insurance, recruitment consultancy was I got my job through the paper. I didn’t even know what a recruitment consultant was. Anyway, I walked in and had an interview and they said, would you like to come and work for us? And I had no idea. I went home and I said, I’ve just been offered a job in a recruitment company. I don’t know what they do. And then ended up starting the following week. And so that was with a business called Jocelyn Row in in London. So, I worked on a temporary desk and literally was placing any Ozzy Kiwi, South African new arrival into insurance companies, banks, doing general kind of administration for a good couple of years. And then I had an opportunity to join a business called Macmillan-Davis Hotez. And they were focused on human resources. And I think through my work initially, working with talent acquisition managers, HR managers to place the temporary, I wanted to learn more about that space. And so, I joined MDH as I called it, worked there for about 3 years. And then life took me to Singapore, worked in Singapore again for another global recruitment business called Robert Walters and worked in Singapore for about just over 12 months, I’ve transferred with Robert Walters to Sydney and had an outstanding, very privileged luckily lucky career with Robert Walters for about 5 years. Got jetted around the world, specifically South Africa to Headhunters, we describe it, accountants back to Australia for a number of years. So that was great fun. And I mean, a few years later, I joined The Next Step. And, and that’s been my home for the last 18– sorry, 13 years.

Graeme Cowan 5:53 

Yeah, yeah. So, you’ve experienced, you know, a number of organizations, locations, and that sort of things, what is the common and important quality for a recruitment consultant to have to be successful?

Jo Skipper 6:08 

Resilience. Resilience, there it is, like I mentioned before, it’s a game of highs and lows. You know, fundamentally, we deal in more rejection than we do, you know, the success of a placement, we meet a lot more people than we ever have opportunities for, and to have to be able to build relations, ongoing relationships with people, when you’re rejecting them, you know, that, that’s a skill, that’s a real skill. And, and to keep your own personal energy, high and positive. When you’re hearing people’s stories about their career, which, you know, there are some really challenging experiences that people have in the workplace, you’ve really got to, you’ve got to have your own level of resilience. You know, my team always know that, you know, I say it all the time, what goes up, goes down. What goes down, goes up, you know, tomorrow is another day using all of those analogies. Because it’s really true in the work that we do. You’ve got to kind of care, but not take it to heart, because otherwise you could really wear the burden of, of a lot of individuals and circumstances.

Graeme Cowan 7:35
So what do you– what have you learned about the best way to reject someone?

Jo Skipper 7:41

To do it with care. To do it with care, and to focus not on personal aspects, but to really focus on some of the skills or capabilities that might have been missing. And then the best thing you can do is give them support around how they can develop that gap. So, you’re not just telling the bad side of the story, but you’re offering some support around? Hey, so we’ve received some feedback that didn’t demonstrate your business acumen quite as well as you could have done. Now. I know you’ve got that skill set. What about we work through next time, how you might be able to communicate that? Let’s work through a particular project that you’ve been part of and how you might be able to demonstrate that it’s kind of that give and take. And I’ve always sound that that helps with that, with that inverted commerce rejection piece.

Graeme Cowan 8:41 

And I guess, in the work, you are involved with all the other market, the HR market, you know, your candidates become your clients. So, they become a– it’s a cycle, isn’t it?

Jo Skipper 8:52 

Correct. One of the people that I’ve worked with a wonderful person called Kathy Wilson, who was one of the I’m sure, you know, was almost number three employee of the Next Step, coined the phrase be good to everybody. And it’s a mantra that all of us live by, be good to everybody. Because exactly one day, they’re your candidate, the very next day you’re– they’re your client. And in our environment, because we create such tight relationships, they end up becoming kind of more than just a professional relationship because you know, you’ve invested, you know about their families, you know, about their lives. And so, yeah, it’s a fine line that we walk, that’s for sure.

Graeme Cowan 9:40 

Yeah. And for our listeners, Jo is based in Melbourne, and Melbourne has particularly had its real challenges in the whole pandemic experience. What’s it been like trying to lead a business through that volatility?

Jo Skipper 9:59 

Not easy. Not easy. So, you know, we were coming, if I kind of take, take our listeners back, you know, coming out into 2020, 2019 had been a huge year, a lot going on in the world and resources was really buzzing. So, there was a lot of movement, a lot of change. Fast forward to the start of the pandemic, I think it was about April 2020. 4 good reasons, recruitment turned off, the tap turned off, anyone in human resources became inwardly focused into their organizations. How do we set people up for success in remote working? How do we start connecting them when lots of organizations have only just started utilizing something like Teams before, so you know, all of those things. Through our first six months, we were incredibly respectful. We didn’t call customers outside of ‘Are you okay?’. Because it was not appropriate. But for us, as an organization, the kind of pipeline was bare. So, you know, we had early career, support team members, that family members, all that we had to reduce, like so many organizations for, and so making sure that they were okay, through that process. We worked really hard as an executive team not to make any rash moves around redundancies and restructuring. And we came out of that pandemic period, not having to make those, make those decisions which was pretty powerful. But it was a lot of learning how to do that remotely, fundamentally, our work had all been face to face. You know, interviewing candidates liaising with my team members, we were a connected face to face workplace. So, we had to learn how to do that remotely. Now, there were some things that we did well, other things that, you know, in hindsight, they probably could have done that done that better. But it really it was pretty challenging that those highs and the highs and lows 2021, things started to get a little bit better. And specifically with the ongoing COVID response, we were really starting to pick up with, with opportunities as HR teams were more and more stretched with that activity. Now, the pace for us by the end of 2021 was we will see burnout, we were seeing significant burnout in the HR community. They had been working 16 plus hours for the last 12 months. And December last year, there were so many people leaving roles because they just want nothing to go to, they just needed to take someone out. So, we also had to work hard with our teams, because they were again, from that resilience piece. They were listening to those stories, they were feeling connected to people’s careers that were struggling, etc. And so, we put in our well-being days actually introduced the nine-day fortnight as well, because we also realized that now operating in a much more digital world, not face to face world. We were on. Everybody was on moving off, they felt responsible for keeping the company going, they felt responsible for helping HR professionals find other HR professionals to manage the situations. And we could see burnout starting to appear through our teams as well. So, we introduced the nine-day fortnight. And that has been a huge success in our organization. Because we recognize people are working in nine days what they would in in 15 days and to have those blocks of three days off. Invaluable, absolutely invaluable.

Graeme Cowan 14:29 

Tell me about that decision to do that. Because, you know, I know other organizations that have done that as well, but it’s working in new territory, isn’t it? What was the– what was the sequence of events to actually launching it and, and evaluating it?

Jo Skipper 14:49 

Well, we kind of thought we need to do something a little bit different, but actually pre tap, pre pandemic and so we ran a little pilot with one of our Sydney teams around the four-day working week. That wasn’t successful. So, we gave them– that we gave them a good go for I think it was a six month, yes, six-month trial, that wasn’t successful. For a number of different reasons, I think, you know, lessons learned, you look back and think was the execution is as good as it could be. No. But equally in our world, things move over in the recruitment process, things can move very, very quickly. And that four days just kind of wasn’t enough, and then having the big break before coming back into it. But we equally could see the value for our team members in having some, a little bit more downtime. So, we kind of went back to, went back to the drawing board and did the research, had some readings. And again, we just thought let’s just give this a go. And launched it but equally we kind of thought, we actually need to launch this totally across the entire business, open to everybody. Because the key piece is trust, you know, we trust you, we trust you that we’re, you’re going to achieve the outcomes we set you. We trust that you are going to respect that the organization, you know, has given you this this kind of benefit as such. And it’s just been absolutely outstanding. It’s also improved internal communication. Because you can’t have a day off without making sure that your colleagues are across what you’re working on having little pieces of handover, etc. And it has bought teams closer together, which was a kind of a side piece that we hadn’t necessarily anticipated. But the connection is just fantastic that it’s created.

Graeme Cowan 17:08 

And how long into it? Do you consider a success?

Jo Skipper 17:12 

6 months. 6 months. So, the leaders were– would have a catch up with their team members on a, we’ve got a rhythm of weekly, monthly, quarterly catch ups. And so, we were doing a review on a monthly basis, just making sure it’s, you know, since testing, checking feedback, okay, it’s great for me as an individual, but actually, is it working for the rest of my team? Is it working for the business and business performance, and all of those markers were positive, team members were happy. Their teams were very happy with how it was working. And, you know, I guess in the recruitment world, it’s quite easy to see the measurement of success, it’s number of placements, we use the NPS score, the Net Promoter Score, and over the last 12 months, we were already at a ridiculously hot positive high score, which is amazing as a leader in the business, but we shifted upwards from high 70s, low positive 80s to now in the high 80s.

Graeme Cowan 18:23 

Wow, wow.

Jo Skipper 18:25 

So, you know, all of the measures, not only revenue, but also how we do the work have all shifted upwards.

Graeme Cowan 18:31 

Yeah. What a great situation because I’m very interested in the four-day workweek. And I’ve done, you know, some research into it. And, you know, in fact, on one of the previous podcasts, Nikki Beaumont, her business, they found a four-day workweek. But, you know, four days does sound pretty short each week. And so, I think what you’ve described, there is a really interesting compromise, because every second week, so long weekend.

Jo Skipper 18:59 

That’s it, that’s it. And, you know, in any kind of, you can– over that period of time, it’s much easier to manage your workflow. And equally, you know, we’re very lucky, we’ve got some really long-term customers and clients that we that we work with, and they just get to know when you’re on, when you’re when you’re not, you know, it’s a nine day, you know, fortnight work week. So, the respect that our team members have that they take calls, etc. But we really do try and encourage that switch off. This is important to coming back to that resilience piece to recharge your batteries and, you know, ensure that you’ve got the resilience to ride the next few weeks that are coming up.

Graeme Cowan 19:51 

It’s very interesting looking at just productivity research and Australian productivity has grown really dismally in the last five years. Where all is flashed new technology and all these virtual type situations. And yet the last three, four years, it’s like 1% growth, like you can fall over and get hit advantage. And I think it is really time to pull back and do things like you’ve done. Did you have to change any– Did the meetings change at all? Or how did you? Were there any– you mentioned about the increased communication that makes sense. Were there any other things that you had to do to help make it work as best as it could?

Jo Skipper 20:35 

We, we got, we got individuals to work with their teams to select the day that worked for them. So again, we you know, we are in a customer facing role. You know, I jokingly always say the shop has to be open and has to be manned. And so, we’ve got the teams to work collectively around who had Fridays, who had Monday’s, who’s maybe got a got a Wednesday, etc., and what worked for them. So that was the first piece. The second piece was Tuesdays were no go. So, people couldn’t select a Tuesday because that’s our routine for working through meetings, from executive meetings to team meetings, to then we have a national all hands virtual meeting. So that was that was kind of embargoed. And with that communication account in the flow of communication, it ensured that if even if you were off the following on a Wednesday, you’d got all the information that you needed around what’s happening from a broader business perspective on that Tuesday. We had engaged and launched teams as a tool before COVID, which was good. Let’s just say I’m not sure that recruiters are the most change positive individuals. And so, it was kind of Dettol that sat there to the side. We now are avid teams, chat users. And each team’s sub teams cross functional interstate teams have got channels. And it’s just a daily flow of communication. And again, because of those teams, chat channels, if you’re not in on your particular flex day, you can go back, and you’ve got all the information that you need to move forward on something. And so that’s something that that has really evolved for us over the, over the last couple of years.

Graeme Cowan 22:49 

Yeah, yeah. A bit of a different slant here. But have you’ve ever had a career crisis, Jo?

Jo Skipper 22:56 

Yeah. I have and actually, it was fairly recent, Graeme, you know, my role has evolved over the last 12 months. So previously, I was the director of the Victorian Practice of the Next Step and was promoted into the Managing Director role which looks after Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne in July last year. You know, I think that there was a little bit of wow, I’m so excited. Fantastic. You know, kind of the pinnacle of what I’ve worked for my career. And then equally imposter syndrome. Why am I in that role? Do I have the skills comparing myself to others but mostly creating this job description in my head of what I thought that role needed to deliver. Which was, in some ways, absolutely polar opposite to who I am, you know, I was avidly reading Boss magazine and comparing myself to you know, the Jane Hardwick is of the world and others. That’s not while I was appointed into the managing director role. So that actually kind of spun very much out of control over a 6-month period. Now, as you mentioned, I’m based in Melbourne you probably you know, some additional pieces around coming out of two years of lockdown etc. And I had a period of over a week of panic attacks that accumulated finally in a quite a severe panic attack. I was driving into work one day I started crying about five minutes into the drive and by the time I got to Docklands I just– the fear I could not go into the workplace. Turn the car around and then drove home rang up the GP and booked in for a mental health assessment. And, you know, through that exploratory conversation recognize, yeah, there was there a number of things going on. You know, my age, I’m leaning into perimenopause, which equally creates some additional challenges. And I also realized through just having an initial chat with a GP, that I needed to kind of sort my career head out, I was putting all my eggs in this career basket, and not balancing, I wasn’t focusing on self-care. Little bit too many, too many wines on the couch after work, not going for walks and doing those kinds of things. And so, I engage with a career coach, and have spent the last 6 months with an absolutely fantastic human who has really helped me realize, work. He’s one part of Jo Skipper, it’s not everything, but I was putting 90% attention. He also gave me the very large AHA moment when he asked me to have you received feedback about how you’re performing in the MD role. And I was like, any negatives, Jo? No? So why are you suddenly creating these expectations of something that you’ve got to be? So, but you know, that that’s been a real challenge? You know, and I think many people probably go through those, those, those situations. And so, it makes our conversation even more important around that care that as a leader, the self-care that you do, to be able to really then care for your border team.

Graeme Cowan 26:56 

Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. You know, when a senior leader shares those stories, it does it makes a massive difference. You know, and I’m sure you have spoken about it. And I’m sure people have said, well, that happened to me too, or it happened to my wife or my uncle, that sort of thing. And they are important discussions, because it has really– the mental health of organizations has really struggled in the last two and a half years. And it’s certainly, it’s certainly not solved. And, you know, I think having a situation where you can, you know, have a coach that can help give you some perspective and some objectivity makes a big difference. What are the things do they ask you that helped to see things a bit differently?

Jo Skipper 27:52 

They really asked me to work on it, we did some work around values. And we also did a fair amount of work around strength. And Graeme, I know that you’ve spoken in the past with the Fantastic CEO Pat Grier. And so, this, what I’m about to say will really resonate. I was focusing on my lesser strengths. Now I was putting 80% of my attention on these lesser strengths. I am never going to be the most orderly, structured systemized person. That’s the antithesis of me. Whereas actually, if I had focused 80% of my attention, and this is what my coach we focused on, let’s actually focus on these top 5/top 10. Let’s use those and how can you tap into those into your work. And once we went through that process, I was focusing all my attention on these really minutiae pieces of my role that I didn’t necessarily love, rather than actually recreating the space for doing all the things that I loved and enjoyed. You know, I love catching up with my team. I love coaching them. I love being out in the HR community and having great conversations. And yet I had put this MD hat on and had become so inwardly focused around, oh, I needed to get your closet free or cheap. It was, it was, you know, kind of draining my creativity and all the things that I had kind of been appointed to the role to deliver on. It was a really good process.

Graeme Cowan 29:53 

And for our listeners, as Jo said Pet Grier was the CEO of Ramsay Health Care and you know, really ever saw a massive, massive growth when he joined. I think they’re about 10 hospitals when he left about 140. But Pat just–, I don’t think I’ve ever done any formal strength training because we come more disciplined now. But he just had this mindset that 80% of people are good and strong and focus on that 80%. And that’s been 100% confirmed with all the more rigorous strengths that is done now, did you go through like a gallon profile is that one that you went through or another one?

Jo Skipper 30:31 

We use the VMA. And there, there is a an interestingly, actually, we had an all company off site, just recently, you know, that reconnection get everyone together. And we ran a strength workshop in the afternoon. So, the VMA online tool, they have a free shortened version, as well. And then you can have a much longer version. And so, we ran it across our teams. And interestingly, we have a very, very strong DNA, the next step of care, love and humor.

Graeme Cowan 31:14 

Wow, wow. What great insight, you know, just to, it can just you sort of experience it. But sometimes when you actually see it written down, it can add a different perspective and give you a different line. And what I love about the strengths as well, and I’ve mainly done the work on the Gallup side of things is that you also understand that every strength is good. And you can’t have all the strengths, and you need complementary strengths and your team to be able to do great work. And it is quite liberating. And you know, I know that, you know, with my kids, I’ve also put them through that. And it does help to guide careers as well, when you know that these are your strengths. And the Gallup says that if you use your top five strengths every day, you’re 600% more likely to be engaged, and 300% more likely to report highlights satisfaction. And so, you know, knowing those strengths, and when you come to a creative fork, you know, will fork A allow me to use my strengths or fork B allow me to use my strengths. It’s worth knowing that the ones that allow you use your strengths more, you’re going to enjoy more, and you’ve just perfectly illustrated that. So yeah, that was a really appreciate your honesty, but also how things evolved. And often it says crises that help us grow and have greater personal insight. And, you know, great leadership is first and foremost about self-awareness, isn’t it?

Jo Skipper 32:49 

Absolutely. You know, the– really, you only can control yourself, you know, you can guide and influence, etc. But the one thing that you can evolve and really change is yourself. And so that self-awareness of how things play out or not on the strength side of things, up that optimal use of strengths and not overplaying things and not underplaying things. In since I’ve learned more about that, because, you know, even in my work, it’s not something I was as familiar with. I can honestly say, the last 6 months have been since I’ve been doing this work, I’ve had probably greater satisfaction in my role, then I’ve had for the last couple of years. So, it’s– it really is a powerful, powerful tool for focusing on those, those strengths.

Graeme Cowan 33:47 

Yeah, and I can just see in your face that that’s the case, you know, you’re suddenly smiling. And that’s what happens when we build our strengths, know our strengths, but also build on them. Yeah, that’s a great illustration. Thank you. When you think about the various organizations that you’ve worked with, and you’ve worked across a lot now, I’m sure. What do the best recruitment groups do? What best talent acquisition groups do? What do they do differently that makes employees say I want to work there?

Jo Skipper 34:24 

I think they, they, they focus on you as an individual. So, what do I mean by that? We sometimes probably do ourselves in the talent acquisition space, a bit of a disservice when we kind of say, hey, it’s not rocket science. No, it’s not rocket science. Fundamentally, the process of what we do is fairly similar. Each time you do it, you just do it for different people. Now, I’ve worked for some organizations where they’re so focused on that process. And you heard earlier, Graeme, I’m not very structured, organized systemize. So, focusing on that process was, was not necessarily as enjoyable work as it could be. But they’re so focused on that, that they lose the connection and, and relationships, the best organizations I’ve worked for when they really engage with you as a human and understand that you bring different strengths. So yes, we have a kind of step-by-step process that we’d like you to align to. But we want you to deliver it in your way, because we’ve hired you. And, you know, we know that you are going to enhance our brand, our thinking, our organizational culture, because who you are, as a professional.

Graeme Cowan 35:57 

And it’s been very much in the news that it’s hard to get good people now, you know, there’s a real surge in demand. How can employers think differently about that?

Jo Skipper 36:11 

You’re spot on, there’s been a huge surge in demand, we’ve got the lag factor of borders closed for two years, and you know, that will take some time to recover. The piece that has really changed, I think, over the last couple of years, is I liken it to marketing. Everything now is personalized. You know, we’ve got algorithms that track what apps we use, etc., so that we get the right advertising for what we are interested in. Employers need to do the same for their employees. It’s not a one size fits all anymore. So, you know, me as leader, I have, you know, the same weekly meetings with all of my team members, and I asked them the same three questions. No, that doesn’t cut it anymore. They want to have that authentic conversation. So, individualize and work out individually, what working hours, times that suit people. And if you can do that, that’s what creates that engagement and connectivity.

Graeme Cowan 37:33 

We’ve had, you know, had some really good times working together in the last two and a half years, I think we first started right at the start of COVID. And we’ve done a number of webinars there. Why do you put on– how do you choose what sort of programs to put on for your clients that you know will add value?

Jo Skipper 37:52 

Yeah, I still remember my cheeky little LinkedIn message directly to you Graeme, look, I know you’d had a relationship with The Next Step in the past. But I, yeah, beginning of the pandemic could see the kind of the call outs coming through on LinkedIn saying, oh, we’ve got to be connected. And, and I thought, well, okay, going back to I wasn’t delivering assignments, because everyone was in the focus. But what is the one other aspect of my role and what I’m good at, and I’m a, I’m a connector, I’m a talent connector. And so, listening, listening to hear what themes might be coming through organizations, or individuals or what HR professionals are leaning into, and then putting my talent connector hat on and looking around my networks, having conversations to say, okay, that person that will connect and solve, not solve, but support, give guidance to some challenges that a particular individual or group of individuals are leaning into. So, I have to say, probably the first year of doing those webinars, there wasn’t necessarily much planning, it was, let’s just, you know, I need to, I need to keep busy. I’m a chatter and it was probably a little self-serving. I need to be connected. But, but more recently, it’s been very much as we’ve spoken about. The main issue that we’re seeing across organizations, outside of talent and connecting talent is well-being. And so, for us and for me, it’s how can I use my network, my relationships to create a platform, to lift the conversation around well-being. To make sure that people really understand psychological safety and leaders and evolve and develop their skills in this newer space. It’s not new but newer space or that caring leader, and how that plays out in the workplace.

Graeme Cowan 40:08 

Yeah. We Care 365 partnered with The Next Step and The Safe Step; we recently published a mental health at work mood vomiter. And there were a number of really interesting things. They were looked at mood at a personal level, a team level and a workplace level, best mood was that personal was about 66%, then a team that 63%, and then organizational workplace, whole workplace was 58%. And yeah, so why do you think that that is the lowest score of the workplace in terms of, you know, feeling that we’re really firing on all cylinders?

Jo Skipper 40:49  

I think my sense is, you know, again, put this into the, into the timeline of the last two years, organizations in that first 12 months of 2020 COVID, were really leaning into individuals, because you know, it was all new, none of us had experienced it. So, there was this whole hashtag, We’re All In It Together. And you know, there was the Zoom, quizzes, etc., to keep everybody connected. That was key focus. Then we then we move into 2021. And it was, you know, still up and down, etc. But we could see the green shoots of things changing. We’re now in eight months into 2022. And I think this is where, for me, I’m seeing the tension play out. Things haven’t gone back to normal, and nor will they, but actually organizations, the muscle memory is so strong, they’re operating the way they did pre-2020. And so, there’s this disconnection from employees going hold on, in 2020. I was, you know, almost cocooned, well looked after, I felt like my organization cared, the CEO cared, my leader cared, they were checking in on me, I was getting little gifts. Then, over time, that’s eroded, and now it’s hey, everyone’s stretched, because we’ve got the talent shortage, people are doing two, three roles at a time. You know, we’re being revenue, we’re leaning into a recession, harder, harder, work harder, longer. And so, there’s been this kind of disconnected, I was feeling cared for and supported. And now I’m just a cog in the machine. And when then you’ve got the macro factors or increased inflation, slower uplift in pay rates, additional issues, home challenges, you know, we’re seeing more and more conversations around challenges happening at home as well. I think individuals are just kind of going, I just feel like I’m not being supported.

Graeme Cowan 43:19 

Yeah, it’s a very, very interesting observation. It’s certainly– it’s going to play out for a long time, isn’t it? Like, we think we’ve got hard work working, but it’s gonna play out like one of the, one of the things I saw recently was that remote workers aren’t as eligible or unseen for promotion, as much as people in house, there was a study I saw where 44% of people in the C-Suite said they would rather promote someone that was physically in the office than someone remotely. So that has to be sorted out, doesn’t it? Because not everyone can work in the office all the time.

Jo Skipper 44:01 

No. That’s right. You know, when, when you think about it from a pure diversity perspective, as well, you know, they’re the individuals that you could tap into, who may not be able to come into a workplace between 8:30 and 5pm, huge cohort, huge cohort of opportunity, opportunity there. And that’s where this, you know, leaders need to work hard to be leaders in this modern work environment. Because the way we used to lead the expectations, we used to set the KPIs we used to set in that old industrial age ways of working, you know, coming into the workplace at 8:30 on the dot leaving at 5:30 on the dot, they don’t fit this new workspace. And this is a lot of the work that I’m you know why I get excited about the discipline that I recruited in human resources because you HR is front and center of this work at the moment, looking at organizational structures, looking at talent pipelines looking at how do we ensure that development happens when people aren’t just all together. How do we ensure that people don’t miss out on a career opportunity because they’re based in Ballarat and come into the workplace once a fortnight?

Graeme Cowan 45:25 

Yeah. What are the findings we had in the moodometer assessment was that 67% felt their manager cared about them, but only 55%. So, they would feel comfortable talking to the manager about a personal mental health issue. You were really wonderful to share your previous challenge. How comfortable do you feel sharing what was going on with you with your leader?

Jo Skipper 45:58 

In the moment, and initially, I wasn’t, because I don’t think I really understood what was happening myself not having experienced it before. I’m probably in that, you know, I guess there’s two things, I guess I’d respond with that answer. I’ve been with The Next Step for 13 years. So, it’s, uh, you know, I have deep, deep relationships because of the length of tenure. So, there is trust there that whilst in that particular moment, I didn’t necessarily know what was happening and feel comfortable with it. Two, three weeks later, when I kind of understood what had occurred, I was very open with my leaders. Initially, I didn’t know how to tell the team, because would it be perceived as a weakness? Would it? Would they think lesser of me? I think we all think these things, but in reality, everyone just lent in literally virtual hug, care, support, what can we do to support you and help you? But I also know that that is not necessarily an everyday normal workplace. So, I think that we’ve spoken about this before that stigma roll. It’s seen not as an illness the way you know, if you had– I don’t know, measles, you haven’t you have an illness, you need to get treatment for that illness. And you know, it could be ongoing, you may recover. It’s not seen as that yet. I hope it will.

Graeme Cowan 47:44 

Yeah, it’s been absolutely wonderful because you have today, Jo and finding out much more about you have spoken a number of times before but having a chance to sort of delve more deeply. One final question, which I always find quite interesting is knowing everything you know now, what advice would you give your 20-year-old self if you go back and you could tell them something that would be really, really helpful, what would that be?

Jo Skipper 48:12 

Don’t sweat the small stuff. I used to wind myself off the dial with the small stuff.

Graeme Cowan 48:21 

I think, I think many of us fall into that category. And I once heard a saying, I think it was you know, it was an older woman. That’s right. And she said, you know, when I was 30, I really worried about everything that people were thinking about me and saying about me when I was 50. I didn’t care what they’re saying about me now that I’m not here, I realized they weren’t thinking about me anyway.

Jo Skipper 48:51 

Hell very, very true.

Graeme Cowan 48:56 

It’s been a real pleasure catching up, Jo, thanks for being part of The Caring CEO.

Jo Skipper 49:01 

Thanks so much, Graeme, lovely to speak to you.

Graeme Cowan 49:05 

Oh, that was great. Really fantastic.

Jo Skipper 49:08 

Thank you. Thank you. That was wonderful.


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