This is the third piece in Fast Forward’s 2018 Accelerator Series featuring Empower Work, an accessible workplace advocate for everyone.
Imagine your manager asking you to come to their office for a surprise review. Then, imagine your manager reprimanding you with unexpected, aggressive, and negative feedback. You want to push back, to defend your contributions, and ask what is going to happen next, but you don’t know how. When you leave the meeting, where do you turn?
This problem is not unique. Nearly half of Americans have left their jobs as a result of workplace challenges like navigating a toxic environment or handling a conflict with a manager. And the collateral damage upon leaving is usually significant. Many report not having jobs lined up, being forced to take jobs at a lower salary, or facing retribution from others at the company. Underrepresented groups are the most negatively impacted.
The Susan Fowler Memo Ignites a Critical Juncture
Jaime-Alexis Fowler is no stranger to workplace adversity. As a manager and part of senior leadership teams, Jaime-Alexis has always been an advocate for equitable workplaces. She has also regularly supported friends, colleagues, and strangers seeking advice around workplace issues. Jaime-Alexis found herself in one of these conversations right around the time big news stories were breaking around workplace harassment. One such headline was the Susan Fowler memo, which outlined Fowler’s experiences with sexual harassment at a tech company (Jaime-Alexis Fowler and Susan Fowler are not related).
That was a critical juncture for Jaime-Alexis. “Why is there not something out there that’s truly third party that supports people in the ways they should be supported at work?” And, where do employees turn when they face the problems they’re seeing in the headlines? These question sparked Jaime-Alexis to begin her research for Empower Work.
The Big Idea
Workplace challenges are universal. Resources to deal with them are not. Empower Work provides confidential, immediate support at your fingertips.
Workplace Challenges are Universal
Jaime-Alexis sprung into action. After sending out a lightweight survey that showed her there was a need for the product, she dove into research. She interviewed plaintiff attorneys, disability rights advocates, labor organizers, and people across the workplace map; those who had 40 year careers, grads just out of college, workers in unions, those who were not in a union… and she quickly had 70 responses.
The results demonstrated that workplace challenges were nearly universal in every industry and at every level. And in most cases, employees did not have a resource to deal with them. Their research signaled that more often than not, employees who had access to workplace support like an HR department were reluctant to pursue that route. Since HR represents both the interests of the company and the employee, it can be murky water for employees trying to rectify challenging situations. Without money to pay for third party help, like a career coach, employees often have limited options for resolving these issues.
A Flyer Reads: Tough Work Situation?
Jaime-Alexis had a feeling that an accessible chat resource might be an answer. She recalls, “I needed to test the theory in the lowest hanging fruit way possible. Would somebody use an anonymous support line for work? And if so, which channels would they be most inclined to use?” So Jaime-Alexis bought a phone number and made a trip to Office Depot. She printed 60 fliers with a phone number and the question: “Tough Work Situation? Chat with a peer counselor.” Her theory was correct – people were using Empower Work. They tested the service across different digital channels, and within six weeks, Empower Work had users in ten states.
510-674-1414 Has Your Back
Empower Work is fueled by vetted and trained peer counselors, a group of working professionals generously volunteering their expertise. The immediate, confidential text line is available to anyone, in any industry, who needs support around workplace issues. From hostile work environments, to job insecurity, to wondering if a situation is normal, Empower Work is always discreetly available to provide the guidance that workers desperately need. Individuals can simply text 510-674-1414 and they’ll be instantly connected to a trained Empower Work counselor.
Texters aren’t the only ones who benefit from engagement with Empower Work; volunteer counselors are afforded new skills and tactics as a byproduct of their coaching. One such example is Rachel, an Empower Work volunteer. She shared, “I have really started to think about the way I respond to people at work… When people come to me, I try to ask probing questions and figure out what the real problem may be rather than assuming.”
Empower Work is Your Accessible Workplace Advocate
Depending on the situation at hand, counselors employ a combination of counseling and coaching in their approach. And it’s working. 91% of texters say they not only feel better after texting, but take an action that results in an outcome they want. In one anonymous texter’s reflection, they said, “Thank you for being a sounding board for me in the midst of a truly horrible, awful, depressing work situation. You helped me figure out my next steps so I didn’t feel quite like I was drowning.”
In the broadest sense, Jaime-Alexis shared that they, “envision a world where everybody feels supported and valued at work.” Empower Work is standing in as an accessible advocate, helping anyone navigate the course of their career. Jaime-Alexis knows the workplace landscape is fraught with issues and there are boundless fences to knock down, but she also knows that to start, access to resources is critical. Today, they’re equipping every employee in America with a confidante. 510-674-1414 FTW.