Emilie, a volunteer at Empower Work, shares her story about her experience as a peer counselor and why she decided to volunteer. Emilie works in the media industry as a journalist and editor. Having been in difficult situations at work herself, Emilie wanted to learn the ways in which you can support people in similar situations. 

What inspired you to volunteer at Empower Work?

I was at a stage in my life where I was considering potentially going back to school to maybe become a therapist and I wanted to gain some experience in supporting people. I specifically chose to volunteer at Empower Work as opposed to something like a suicide hotline or crisis hotline because I am very interested in the impact that work has on people. I had been through a lot of difficult work situations myself and wanted to learn the ways in which you can support people around you. 

What were the most valuable skills you learned in volunteer training?

The skill that I found most important and useful was validating and being able to make space for other peoples’ emotions in a way that is not unintentionally making them feel invalidated – helping people to feel heard. I think we often, as a culture, lack the language and are not taught the language for validation and I always admire people who are really good at validation but I think I learned a lot about how to make people feel heard. What’s fascinating is that if you have the right combination of validating, praising people, acknowledging the strengths you see in someone, and asking questions, you can actually really help people with not much more than that. You can really help shift people from out of where they were when they first showed up and it’s kind of magical. 

What are the perks of volunteering at Empower Work?

Being part of a community of people who share the same values that you do.  In some ways, you’re experiencing a positive workplace yourself, that can model an example of how you might build a workplace as a manager or model what you deserve and what you can expect in a workplace. Other perks include being able to make your own schedule, have it work around your timetable, and choosing shifts based on when you’re free. I’m a freelancer and also have a day job so my schedule is always shifting around and I can make it work for me.  

You mentioned that you’ve dealt with difficult situations at work yourself. How would Empower Work have helped you in your situation?

They would’ve helped me so much. In the past, I didn’t really know who to talk to about things, so I would either bottle my  problems up or talk to my friends, my family, or other coworkers,  but I was never very good at knowing how to intervene and ask for the things I needed to change. Since becoming a volunteer, I’d say that I’m better at separating my emotions about a situation from action steps. So, I have a better sense of knowing how to manage my emotions about a situation as a separate matter from the action plan. I’m better at sitting down with a pen and paper and sketching out what my action plan could look like, taking those actions, and realizing that those actions – while they’re scary – they’re actions I owe to myself. And I can take action with more confidence. 

How has your volunteer experience at Empower Work changed your perspective on the world of work?

I’m an editor and journalist and work in the media industry. I work in an industry that’s really, really rough. There’s a lot of turnover. There’s a lot of job precarity. There’s unfortunately not a very big emphasis on strong management. For example, often, it’s people who are successful journalists or editors who will get into management positions but they have no management experience or even necessarily an interest in it. Because it’s such a competitive and cutthroat industry, there can be a lot of workplace politics, a lot of toxicity, structural inequality, racism, and sexism. I had felt like working in the media industry, it’s very easy to feel alone and like nobody cares about this stuff. It was so amazing and empowering to enter a space of other volunteers and staff who all see these issues and believe there’s another way of doing things. I think that Empower Work in itself models a positive workplace and models the values that it helps to impart to others. That’s a really beautiful thing to see a model of that. 

What is your favorite aspect about being a volunteer at Empower Work?

The people and the feeling of mutual supportiveness. I know that we talk about this in the training – sometimes you have to pay attention to being triggered by people presenting similar situations to ones you’ve been through. But, it makes me feel like I’m a part of this larger world of workers that are struggling with similar scenarios. There’s something really beautiful about recognizing flashes of something you’ve experienced in somebody else’s story and being able to be the person to help them. Especially if you don’t always have that person in your life, but knowing that you can help build something better for someone else in need.

What was your most memorable experience on the line?

I had an experience recently – and it has happened a couple of times – where there are people who are in work situations where they say, “I am stuck. I don’t know which way to turn and I’ve tried everything.” They’ll become skeptical of you, “You’ll surprise me if you tell me something I haven’t even thought of yet.” What’s interesting about this method is that so many times you’re actually able to provide the person with a new way of looking at things that they hadn’t thought of or help them to take a step back from the situation and realize that what they need is not an action but how to manage their feelings in the present. It’s incredible to see how this method encourages helping the person to locate the answer that already exists within themselves. The tools that we have are really effective in helping them come to those conclusions.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about volunteering at Empower Work?

I would tell people that if they care about people, labor issues, and all of the unseen pain that people experience on the job every day, that this is a place where you’ll meet people who also care about those things and then you’ll also be able to directly impact and help address them.

This blog post originally appeared on Empower Work’s website.