Have you ever found yourself in a workplace situation with no one to turn to? Empower Work is at your fingertips.
The American Institute of Stress reports that workplace stress causes major physical and emotional difficulties for over 65% of Americans. In today’s increasingly high stakes work environment, it’s important to know how you can ask for help. As the Founder and Executive Director of Empower Work, the first confidential text hotline for work issues, Jaime-Alexis believes that everyone should have access to support wherever and whenever they need it. With Empower Work, you initiate the conversation via web or text. You’ll be immediately and confidentially connected with a Peer Counselor, trained to support users facing workplace stress and anxiety.
What was the catalyst for actually starting the process to create your own business?
If employment is the primary vehicle for economic mobility, we have to make sure people are not just making it into jobs, but are successful in them.
Employer-provided resources are distrusted. Nearly 80% of those we surveyed had never used a service provided by their employer or didn’t even have access to one. And individual networks, while helpful for venting, may not have the needed knowledge or perspective. Neither offer the immediacy people desire in an urgent, high-pressure moment.
I didn’t set out to start a business, but the research, the need, the gap, was so clear — I followed that need.
What are the three most memorable breakthroughs you had while growing your business that gave you confidence that you were on the right track?
The first was a quick Google search. I’d just wrapped up a conversation with a friend who was facing an extraordinarily challenging work moment. She’d leveraged her LinkedIn network to connect with anyone who could help her navigate how to handle it. I was struck by the fact that what she likely needed was a resource separate from her tiny company and much closer to the situation. I quickly Googled variations of crisis text line for work or issues you might encounter and need to connect with someone about. An hour later, I’d found nothing. That gaping Google hole launched the question: “what do people need?”
The second breakthrough moment was when I reviewed hundreds of responses to a simple survey we’d created to follow that question. Over 95% of people who responded said they’d faced a work challenge and nearly 80% said it was extraordinarily difficult. So difficult that many left their jobs with no plan lined up. The common thread was that those without support faced the most negative outcomes following those work challenges. Clearly, there was a need.
The third breakthrough was our pilot. We launched with a simple Twilio number — no information about whether to text or call, just the number and that we provide support for tough work situations. Within 6 weeks we had texters from 10 different states. Over 96% of people who reached out had texted. Our theory that not just the support, but the SMS component, to meet people in a bathroom stall, a bus seat, at their desk but not be overheard, was proving out.
What were the toughest experiences to endure as a business owner? Points where you wondered why you were doing this at all?
It’s always hard when you hear a “no.” But I’ve found the harder moments are the “kinda-maybes.” A “no” provides clarity to move on.
Early in Empower Work’s journey, I probably spent too much time on kinda-maybes trying to understand what wasn’t a match, instead of being laser-focused on expanding on what we knew was working for our users.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to build a company like yours?
It’s really simple, and nothing new: follow the need. Another way of framing that is human-centered design. For me, it was about deeply understanding the needs of people at a vulnerable work moment, when your livelihood might be on the line and you feel isolated and unsure how to move forward. As a two-sided marketplace, we needed to also deeply understand the motivations and interests of our volunteers. What makes the best experience — and drives the best outcomes — for both texters and volunteers is at the heart of our organizational decision-making.