Australian employers are being asked to check in with their apprentices and trainees today, as individuals and businesses around the country participate in the eighth R U OK? Day.
Run by the suicide prevention charity of the same name, R U OK? Day is a national day of action designed to encourage people to connect with those around them.
While the initiative is aimed at people from all walks of life, McDonald Murholme principal lawyer Andrew Jewell says the day presents an opportunity to discuss mental health in Australian workplaces too.
In particular, Jewell says employers could use the day to check in with their apprentices and trainees.
“There are frequent cases of apprentices being underpaid, bullied or mistreated in the workplace, as well as having lack of training and support,” Jewell told SmartCompany in a statement.
“This can have a detrimental impact on their state of mind, with work satisfaction being a major contributing factor to mental wellbeing.”
Jewell’s comments follow a report released by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research in August into the social support structures available to Australian carpentry apprentices.
The report found the most effective support for mental health and wellbeing at work is through informal means, including pastoral care and mentoring.
While mentally healthy workplaces benefit both employees and employers, Jewell also reminds employers of their legal obligations to all workers.
“All employers owe their employees a duty to provide a safe working environment without risks to health, and aside from negative effects to employees, a failure to comply with this duty can result in prosecution and substantial fines,” he said.
“A lesser known duty on employers is the obligation to monitor employees’ health, within reason; R U OK? Day is a great opportunity to comply with this duty.”
How to support apprentices
Alan McDonald, managing director of McDonald Murholme, told SmartCompany one way employers may be able to support workers who are completing an apprenticeship or traineeship is to see if they need a hand with their paperwork, as it’s human nature for people to worry over completing forms or undertaking tests.
This could involve giving a more senior team member time to help the apprentice better understand the paperwork “so it can be completed without undue stress”, he says.
“It takes a load off people’s minds, instead of them worrying about it for weeks,” he says.
McDonald also says providing positive feedback and advice in a workplace also goes a long way.
“We all remember what our teachers and mentors say. What they say really counts,” he says.
“There is nothing wrong with an older employee telling an apprentice some anecdotes from the past or raising some analogies with the apprentice, especially if it is done with good humour.
“Many work problems are ageless; history does repeat itself.”
If you need to talk to someone about depression or anxiety, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.