January 30, 2020

This easy and confidential service is a crisis text line for workers

The nonprofit Empower Work trains peer counselors to guide and support workers who are experiencing work stress—everything from harassment and bullying to surprise termination.

Jaime-Alexis Fowler, left, is the founder of Empower Work, a nonprofit that provides immediate, confidential support for people who are experiencing a stressful situation at work.

I hung up the phone, took a deep breath, and turned to my partner, “there’s got to be a better way than this. There must be a crisis text line for work?”

My partner looked at me. I’d just finished another whisper-network style phone call. It wasn’t going to make headlines, but it was another #MeToo experience. A young woman, first generation to go to college in her family had leveraged the heck out of her small, early career network and somehow connected with me. She was depleted and overwhelmed when we talked. She’d left college with massive student loans and was drawn to the tech industry with the promise of high wages and advancement in ways her family had never seen. She knew some of the challenges that might come her way—she’d experienced plenty throughout life. But she hadn’t expected the demeaning, pervasive toxicity of her small startup. Several weeks earlier it had reached a boiling point and she’d had no idea what to do.

As we wrapped our call, I was struck by how she’d needed someone weeks earlier. The situation had taken a wrecking ball through her confidence, and as weeks had passed with no support and little recourse, it had shaken her faith that going to college and moving into a future-forward industry would kick start her family into the middle class. When we chatted, she’d all but given up hope and was thinking of leaving her job and heading home to find different work and potentially a different career.

My newly connected friend was not alone. Research shows that workplaces are not working for most Americans. Across industries, roles, and geographies, over 95 percent of Americans have faced adverse work situations from bullying to harassment to surprise terminations to wage theft. Unfortunately when faced with one, over 80 percent of working Americans lack a trusted place to turn.

Trained peer counselors help guide workers who are having issues in their workplace. The process is easy—anyone in need can simply reach out via text, 510-674-1414.

And not surprisingly, the negative impact is unevenly spread. Under-represented and under-resourced workers are not only more likely to face adverse situations, they’re less likely to have support, resulting in calling in sick (often unpaid), leaving a job with no next job, taking a pay cut, or leaving an industry altogether. There’s a pervasive, invisible negative ripple effect across people’s lives, exacerbating inequality.

We’re supposed to be the land of opportunity. Work—and our jobs—are too often tied to our economic security and mobility, as well as our wellbeing. Today, stress from work is at an all time high, in part because of the threat of losing that security, identity, and dignity.

Our emotional and financial wellbeing are deeply interconnected, with little safety net.

As I reflected on that call in the coming weeks, I couldn’t let go of a question: “what do workers at these critical moments need?”

So I followed that question. Delving into qualitative and quantitative research, mapping the market, and listening to workers. Ultimately, launching the first text line for work issues.

Empower Work addresses a critical gap and is a complement to many existing resources. We blend emotional and tactical coaching, reaching workers on a bus, or a break room via SMS or chat. Trained peer counselors provide a discrete, immediate space to process. They guide the texter in exploring the larger context, evaluating options, and identifying a next step.

Over 90 percent of texters say that after engaging with Empower Work they both feel better and, within a few weeks, take an action that results in an outcome they want (e.g., reporting a chef for harassment, getting a pay raise). A significant impact for a timely intervention. And more than 96 percent of our deeply trained volunteers say they learn new skills they bring back to their workplaces.

Our timely intervention is leading to demonstrably more positive economic and emotional outcomes for underserved workers after livelihood-threatening experiences.

One person wrote, “In all honesty, I think bad bosses keep pushing employees to the brink of a mental health crisis. People don’t have the laws or resources to get help and stop the toxic workplaces from affecting them so negatively. Empower Work is necessary because it gives people a way to talk it out, get validation and advice and it doesn’t cost a dime or make someone fill out insurance paperwork or feel like it may get back to their bosses about what they feel.”

Another shared, “Empower Work was there for me when I needed them. There were no long waits, no intake forms, no financial questions. There was a human on the other end of the line who cared. That meant a lot.”

Over 40 million working Americans lack access to resources and support. Many are struggling for their families, for a better future, for that promise of opportunity.

I believe we can build better, healthier workplaces where employees are valued, supported, and empowered. We know what creates positive outcomes—now we’re building to reach 3 million under-represented workers within the next five years, transforming emotional and economic outcomes, training thousands of volunteers that leverage their skills to bring change to their workplaces, and opening our data and working with researchers to shift systemic change.

Do you believe there can be a better future of work? Join us.

Become a peer volunteer, bring Empower Work to your community, or donate to help keep us free and accessible to workers facing livelihood threatening moments.

Jaime-Alexis Fowler

Jaime-Alexis Fowler

Empower Work

Jaime-Alexis Fowler is the founder and executive director of Empower Work which provides immediate, confidential support for difficult work situations via text. She's a seasoned leader with a track record of building agile, high-performing, healthy teams. She’s led marketing at a $100M reproductive health international NGO, run operations for a national post-abortion counseling nonprofit, overseen marketing at Code for America, and launched an investigative newsroom. Her work has been featured in TechCrunch, Slate, Fast Company, and Forbes. Jaime-Alexis frequently speaks and writes about building collaborative, healthy teams, career pathways and pivots, social entrepreneurship, and the future of work. She’s a graduate of Vassar College with an MA from the London School of Economics.
all stories