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In defense of @NEOHCommJobs’ bullying of job candidates

(Editorial) When you’re the keeper of jobs, people come out of the woodwork to approach you, but one such person’s responses constitute bullying in our book.

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kelly blazek

Kelly Blazek is well known in her neck of the woods for having over 960 LinkedIn connections, a bi-monthly email list (“Cleveland Job Bank House”), and an active Twitter account (@NEOHCommJobs). But if you live outside of Cleveland, you may now know her as the sender of several abrasive emails to job seekers looking to connect with her or her lists.

Last week, 2013 IABC Communicator of the Year, Kelly Blazek responded to a stranger’s request to connect with her, which has made the rounds in BuzzFeed Community Forum, and Imgur, and today, Cleveland Scene got a hold of the following email thread:

Hello Kelly,
My name is , I currently live in Chicago and am planning on moving back home to Cleveland in the next few months. I was born and raised in Cleveland and am excited to come back, finally. [A] friend of mine referred me to your Yahoo Group and I requested admission, but was denied.

When I told [my friend] about this, he told me that contacting you was the best way to gain access to the group. I am currently active in the employment market and have been in Technology Sales for the past 4 years.

What is the best way to gain acceptance into this group, so I can help find a job?

All the best,
[redacted]

Simple enough, but this is how Blazek responded:

[H]ow about starting with NOT presuming I would share my nearly 1,000 personally-known LinkedIn contacts with a TOTAL stranger? How bush league to pull that stunt. It’s what kids do – ask senior executives to link in to them, so they can mine contacts for job leads. That’s tacky, not to mention entitled – what in the world do I derive from accepting a stranger’s connection request? You earned a “I Don’t Know ______” from me today, for such an assumptive move. Please learn that a LinkedIn connection is the equivalent of a personal recommendation. If I haven’t heard of someone, met them, or worked with them, why would I ever vouch for them on LinkedIn?

My Job Bank is a gift of my personal time and effort to benefit my profession. It’s a privilege to help thousands of jobseekers – but I have my limits. You have not earned the right to ask me to connect on LinkedIn, and your Yahoo Group request was denied because you didn’t provide any information when you requested membership – or failed to respond to a request for more information that indicates your background is a match for the jobs I share.

No more questions or requests. Please tap into the other job seeker resources in NE Ohio for your search.

Kelly Blazek | Principal
Gemba Communications, LLC
2013 IABC Communicator of the Year

But wait, there’s more bullying

In addition to that gracious email from the communications professional, the following is also allegedly penned by Blazek:

“This is how Kelly Blazek, the biggest Northeast Ohio marketing/creative job posting leader, treats young jobseekers: https://t.co/jaKBMw0knb

— Joseph Hughes (@nczeitgeist) February 25, 2014

After all of the letters went public, visiting her Twitter page now looks as follows:

neohcommjobs

Why she and others should definitely bully others

I have no idea how many LinkedIn connections I have because I don’t find much value there, personally, but it’s over 3,000, so by Blazek’s connections, I would be well within my rights to rudely respond to a request to connect.

I also created and operate a Closed Facebook Group called “Austin Digital Jobs” which has over 42,000 members, so by Blazek’s standards, I would be within my rights to rudely respond to any new requests to connect.

Our company has an email database that is thousands of times the size of Blazek’s, so by her standards, I would be thousands of times more entitled to rudely respond to a request to join any of our email lists.

It makes sense, right? I mean, she’s a pretty big deal, so why wouldn’t she respond rudely? I mean, Mark Cuban responds to emails without belittling people, but this douchey lady in Cleveland is so high and mighty that she should most definitely bully people that are using social networking tools to actually network.

I’ve hurt a few feelings, but come on

Look, I have a group similar to Blazek’s, and I’ve hurt a few feelings in the process by calling spam out for being spam, and it is a pretty time consuming task to keep the group focused on legitimate jobs instead of event postings, fake Nikes for sale, work at home scams, and so forth.

With thousands of people, it can become tiring, and I do rule with an iron fist, so I can relate to Blazek, but I do not rule with that iron fist for my own self interest or because I’m so important that I should bully anyone that is below me in the caste system, rather, I am aggressive with rules to keep the group clean, focused, and so that members don’t get barraged with garbage. I get messages every single day thanking me for keeping the group on task, and I will always keep it that way so that the group actually has value.

Blazek was clearly trying to keep value in her little worlds, but to be so cruel is completely uncalled for, so while I am here to defend her for… no wait, it’s indefensible. And on top of that, who in the hell uses Yahoo! groups anymore? Most of those “members” are likely defunct, just like my 20 Yahoo email addresses from college. Lady, your comprehension of social media AND of communications is what is rookie here, not a polite request from a stranger to which you reacted like a wild hyena that just took crack for the first time and is getting acid thrown in its eyes as it is walking across hot coals.

I bust my ass with a jobs group that I don’t get paid for, because I want to give back to my city in yet another way, so I just can’t understand why she would proclaim herself the Godfather of a city and make people kiss a ring while she builds her “personal brand” on their backs. I call bullshit.

One of my friends summarized Blazek’s behavior perfectly: “Karma’s only a bitch when you are.”

UPDATE: Blazek carefully pens an apology after the emails went viral – are you buying it? Tell us in the comments.

Story updated in 2018 to reflect updated ADJ Membership numbers.

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64 Comments

64 Comments

  1. TheRealLisaG

    February 25, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    As a member of the private group Lani runs I’m grateful for both her generosity and her awesome ability to be a hardass when called for. Blazek’s hardassness is rather incomprehensible to me.

    • Lani Rosales

      February 25, 2014 at 8:18 pm

      Well said – the hardassness makes no sense, given the circumstances. It’s not like the messages she responded to said something like: “hey, hooker, let me in yo group, I gotta tell peeps bout the job where they can get paid $75 and hour just for using the innernet!”

  2. SMHoenig

    February 25, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    This story resonates deeply with me. I’ve been both a job searcher and a recruiter. I have acquired first-hand experience that we are between worlds.

    My dad retired after 37 years at the same company. That world is gone. The new one is still coming into focus. I have to believe there’s a way we can all row the boat together as we strive for the same misty shore(s).

    It’s so astonishing for somebody with her reputation as a communicator and connector to behave so corrosively. Honestly, I asked a friend on Twitter, by DM, if maybe she’s got a brain tumor eating away at the part of her brain that governs Niceness. Or maybe she was hacked over the long term? Or, in other words, WTF?

    • Lani Rosales

      February 25, 2014 at 8:19 pm

      I long debated what could possibly cause this type of reaction, and like you, I wondered about her personal life. But even personal crisis is not an excuse for being a bully.

      Thanks for a thoughtful comment on the changing tides!

      • SMHoenig

        February 26, 2014 at 12:34 pm

        Also this:

        She coulda had a V8.

  3. Noboru Akimoto

    February 25, 2014 at 7:11 pm

    Thank you, Lani, both for making ADJ a joy to be part of, and for calling this behavior out for what it is.

    • Lani Rosales

      February 25, 2014 at 8:19 pm

      Oh wow, thanks for the compliments, Noboru! 😀 😀

  4. Lani Rosales

    February 25, 2014 at 8:21 pm

    Exactly.

  5. John Egan

    February 25, 2014 at 10:20 pm

    Lani, I know for a fact while you might be blunt in responding to something like this, you wouldn’t be as outrageously bitchy as this woman was. As I said on Facebook, she should have kept her rejection short and sweet and moved on. Why spent so much time spewing so much vile? It’s not worth it. And now she’s paying the price in the public arena.

    • Lani Rosales

      February 26, 2014 at 12:14 am

      Oh wow, thank you John, that means a lot coming from you (I know you have high standards!), and you’re right – it took a lot of time to be that rude. It would have been less rude if she ignored their requests, don’t you think?

      • John Egan

        February 26, 2014 at 1:21 am

        Seriously, it would have consumed far less time and energy to just not respond. Think before you hit the send button!

  6. Melissa Zavala

    February 26, 2014 at 12:07 am

    Lani, In “The 4-Hour Workweek” Ferriss talks about how impossible to reach people are actually easier to reach than expected. Having dealt with the big banks’ executive offices and in some other personal experiences, I’ve found that those that we might consider to be in the upper echelon are actually quite easy to access because they are so kind and warm. On the flip side, you have some people in the middle, like Blazek, who clearly do not see the world through the same lens. I believe that this might be an example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect… Great story!

    • Lani Rosales

      February 26, 2014 at 12:17 am

      I have just Googled the “Dunning-Kruger Effect,” and I can’t agree with you more, smartypants!

      And you’ve made a great point – some of the busiest, most high ranking people in this world take the time to talk to the “little people.” I’ve read that when Bush was the Governor in Texas, he’d come to the capitol early and make the rounds in the lower offices and knew every assistant and secretary’s name in the building and their story. If he can do that, this lady can consider her own place in the universe.

  7. eightofeight

    February 26, 2014 at 10:16 am

    the bait and switch on the title is smart to get views, but frankly, i feel played.

    dont hate the player hate the game?

    • Lani Rosales

      February 26, 2014 at 12:57 pm

      Hate the player or the game, I’m down for either 🙂

  8. Lani Rosales

    February 26, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    JP, I think humiliation is a good term for what happened to the recipients, and although I don’t wish Blazek to feel that same humiliation, I do hope that as she turns her social media accounts back on slowly, that she learn the privacy settings as well as the new culture of each.

    Thanks for your comment!

  9. Lani Rosales

    February 26, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    Debbie, indeed, and I hope that this is a learning moment for her and that the community learns to forgive her as she takes the first steps back into her daily grind. She doesn’t deserve to be permanently ousted, and I don’t think her award should be taken away as some have suggested, but she did inflict unnecessary pain which is a leaning moment for us all. Like @disqus_yj87SE2qio:disqus said, think before you hit send – there’s a human being on the other end of that email.

  10. Lani Rosales

    February 26, 2014 at 3:00 pm

    Jim, for what I believe a small and decreasing number of Millennials, there is an attitude of entitlement, and thank you for pointing out that same sense of entitlement Blazek displayed.

    Trust me, running a job board is NOT glamorous, but it’s also not a reason to be self-important.

    I’ve written a lot over the years on the topic of Millennials, and I have come to the conclusion that it isn’t necessarily widespread, but typically limited to the inexperienced who haven’t experienced that first step in climbing the ladder yet. From the bottom, the ladder doesn’t look so tough to some, but it can be extremely difficult, especially once you’re in the middle.

    Thank you for a thoughtful response and for pointing out the ironies in the letters!

  11. Narissa Johnson

    February 26, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    In reading her email response the only thing that popped into my mind was that she was not in her right mind. The message was not a moment of irritation – that was the result of longtime pent up frustration. It is time for her to pass the project on to someone else. It’s a shame she was representing the communicators in the community.

    • Lani Rosales

      February 28, 2014 at 12:54 pm

      Narissa, I totally agree, but I don’t think this is a moment of weakness or personal crisis – this has been going on for years, she’s just now being put on a national stage without clothes on.

  12. AmyVernon

    February 26, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    I was pretty stunned when I first saw her letter. I wondered how true it was. Her apology leaves no shadow of any doubt that she wrote what she did.

    I think that we all have had those frustrating moments where we’ve WANTED to say things like that to someone who pinged us at just the wrong time. But for someone who’s a comms pro, she proved not to be much of a pro.

    • Lani Rosales

      February 28, 2014 at 12:55 pm

      Exactly.

  13. arturocoto

    February 26, 2014 at 10:36 pm

    Seems that at some point, Kelly may have had good intentions to help her city and built a network by marketing herself as THE best job bank in Cleveland (because wait for it… there isn’t another one).

    She was willing to put in the effort, build up the network, help those that followed her strict rules and built her personal brand. However, it appears now that it was for the wrong reasons – what it appears she wanted was power / recognition for her efforts.

    Unfortunately, I’ve seen this happen to other people that achieve a certain status or position of power. The best leaders are those that do good for altruistic reasons and expect nothing in return. Sure, they may have rules but they don’t kick someone when they are down – they try to guide and help. And that’s why I respect and am grateful for what you do for Austin Lani. Peace.

    • Lani Rosales

      February 28, 2014 at 12:56 pm

      Oh wow, thanks, what a kind compliment! What Kelly fails to realize is that, as you alluded to, she’s NOTHING without all of those people clamoring for jobs. It’s the people that make a GROUP, otherwise, it’s a party of one. No one should ever lose sight of that when building any type of community.

  14. tarlcabot

    February 27, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    Well I can tell you from my standpoint, she has now been entered into our “Do not hire” database for the global company I work for. This is the same behavior equivalent to that other woman who tweeted about “hope I don’t get aids” before boarding a plane to South Africa – another supposed “PR” professional.

    • Lani Rosales

      February 28, 2014 at 12:53 pm

      Ouch. I think she deserves another chance – I bet she’s learned a pretty valuable lesson here… unless she’s off the wagon, I don’t think you’ll see any nastygrams from her for the rest of her life.

      • Salvian

        March 1, 2014 at 5:51 am

        Lani – Disagree, what will happen is that the nastiness will get more subtle and she will sharpen up her act. She needs to change careers.

  15. tarlcabot

    February 27, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    Her twitter is gone, her linkedin is toast – just like her career at this point.

  16. Robert Batson

    February 27, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    Lani… Great response. Now that’s class!

    • Lani Rosales

      February 28, 2014 at 12:56 pm

      #blushing

  17. billtheamerican

    February 27, 2014 at 9:42 pm

    Man she screwed up big time. I hope she can’t find another job herself but that probably won’t happen. She’s obviously well connected and I wouldn’t be surprised if some big wig somewhere thinks this is good that she flamed this kid for absolutely no reason. I can’t but wonder if this type of cronyism is keeping the 30 and 20 somethings from finding a decent job these days.

    • Lani Rosales

      February 28, 2014 at 12:57 pm

      I don’t think that’s what’s keeping Millennials from finding jobs, but I do think it is exactly what causes distrust between generations – a lack of respect. She felt disrespected, so she returned that disrespect, which will now be superimposed on other people 50+ in the workforce by those who have been abused. Not good.

  18. Nate Ru

    February 28, 2014 at 8:26 am

    I would be completely embarrassed to be one of Kelly Blazek’s 960+ LinkedIn contacts right about now. The thing to do is to unconnect with her, and have her try to send requests to build it back up.

    • Lani Rosales

      February 28, 2014 at 12:57 pm

      She’s gone dark online, so that won’t be a problem.

  19. Kami Watson Huyse

    February 28, 2014 at 9:57 am

    When you are responsible for running a thriving local community, you should never make the mistake of believing it is yours. While you may be doing the work, the community itself decides to be a community. At any moment, they could all leave behind a wasteland. Good manners should never be trumped by self importance.

    • Lani Rosales

      February 28, 2014 at 12:58 pm

      PERFECT. I can’t add anything to that, @kamichat:disqus, you’ve nailed it. Thank you for a thoughtful response!

  20. Lani Rosales

    February 28, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    @kayayeokay:disqus you’re the reason I felt confident in publishing this story – I am not convinced that these nastygrams are the only one. You don’t go from 0 to 60 in 0.0 seconds, it takes time to grow confident enough and test it out before you know how to whip someone. How unfortunate; I’m sorry you went through that, no one deserves it!

  21. Lani Rosales

    February 28, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    “There’s a setting for that, dear.”

    LOVE IT.

  22. TheLoneDissenter

    February 28, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    Kelly Blazek destroyed her credibility and reputation in an instant with one poorly-thought-out response to a simple and polite online request. A cautionary tale for all to adhere to.

    I hope her ability to earn an income suffers greatly after this debacle … Man, does she ever deserve it.

    • scotty501

      March 1, 2014 at 9:58 am

      not response.. RESPONSES

  23. Puppyfoot

    February 28, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    There is not defense.. apparently she thought she was bigger than she was. Even if she was defending her group… she seemed to relish and enjoy her response to these people.. I wouldn’t doubt it put her in a good mood to exercise her power over the group in such a fashion. Get owned.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 3, 2014 at 6:50 pm

      Ouch. Maybe, but still, ouch!

  24. Bill

    February 28, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    Joe Smith 1 (aka Kelly Blazek) lol. nice try Missy.. Your “career” is over. Anyone linked with your name in this field will be trash as well. Watch your highly prized 1000+ connections fall away.

    You’re not a Gatekeeper or a leader, you are a taker. You are getting everything you deserve, good luck playing in the corner by yourself.

    your nasty self centered emails are now world wide – just Google your own name and you will see it’s EVERYWHERE…

    Good luck with the job search, you’re surly going to need it.

    It appears that she has gone into hiding EVERYTHING and every website she is associated with is ERROR 404 MISSING.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 3, 2014 at 6:50 pm

      Speaking of, what an interesting PR play… a communications professional would embrace it, spin it, win, and move on… not run away. That, above all, will be what hurts her career.

  25. Salvian

    March 1, 2014 at 5:36 am

    Good Article.

    First off, this Ms. Blazek’s business is dead, finished, kaput. If she is smart, she will cut a deal to sell her contact list. Second point, she kind of fell into a “perfect storm” of complete frustration that most of humanity has with the job market right now. To many in the job market the process isn’t just unfair (which it always has been), but rather perfectly random, and brutally so. Except that it isn’t. It is a process that seems random on one side of the equation, but is very fixed on the other. Job seekers only to be put up as a “top 3” sacrificial lamb out of 50 or so applications a few times in the face of a predetermined outcome to figure that much out.

    Last Point, it is tempting to write off the entire HR/Recruiting industry as a bunch of bent and
    nasty hustlers who have no real skills of their own save the political ability to wedge between a harried job seeker and a lazy hiring manager. Ms. Blaszek’s messages reinforce that meme in spades. That is not the case uniformly, but anyone who has been around the block has found exceptionally nasty people who are attracted to the power that this gateway function provides.

    Ms. Blazek may not have been one of those types when she started, but she clearly is one now.

    Again, it is important to state that most people in this field are not like this lady.

    Wrap up. There never will be a good time to act this way, but this was probably the worst time imaginable to have a blow up like this. The HR/Recruiting game is one that is screaming for a radical restructuring in its professionalism and it’s information transparency.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 3, 2014 at 6:51 pm

      You’re so right about the timing – wish I had thought of that when I crafted my response!!

  26. Salvian

    March 1, 2014 at 5:46 am

    Debbie, I believe that you believe what you say, but I am not buying it. I think you have been worked. I do think that she feels bad for her career and her reputation. I do not think she cares one whit about the people on the to: line of those messages. In fact, my guess is that if she could engineer a payback for this, she would do just that.

    Even if you are right, it hardly matters, the trust in this area has been so decimated that there is no way her reputation survives this. I would seriously reprimand anyone in my organization that used someone like this to have the most important input in our most critical decision – who we hire. There are some things that you can’t recover from. This is one of them.

  27. Salvian

    March 1, 2014 at 6:01 am

    Good Article.

    First off, this Ms. Blazek’s business is dead, finished, kaput. If she is smart, she will cut a deal to sell her contact list. Second point, she kind of fell into a “perfect storm” of complete frustration that most of
    humanity has with the job market right now. To many in the job market the process isn’t just unfair (which it always has been), but rather perfectly random, and brutally so. Except that it isn’t. It is a process that seems random on one side of the equation, but is very fixed on the other. Job seekers
    only to be put up as a “top 3” sacrificial lamb out of 50 or so applications a few times in the face of a predetermined outcome to figure that much out.

    Last Point, it is tempting to write off the entire HR/Recruiting industry as a bunch of bent and nasty hustlers who have no real skills of their own save the political ability to wedge between a harried job seeker and a lazy hiring manager. Ms. Blazek’s messages reinforce that meme in spades. That is not anywhere near the case uniformly, but anyone who has been around the block has found exceptionally nasty people who are attracted to the power that this gateway function provides.

    Ms. Blazek may not have been one of those types when she started, but she clearly is one now and no one in their right mind would believe that her apology is anything more than a hustle.

    With all of that, it is really, really important to state that most people in this field are not like this lady, but your industry has problems, serious ones really.

    Wrap up. There never will be a good time to act this way, but this was probably the worst time imaginable to have a blow up like this. The HR/Recruiting game is one that is screaming for a radical restructuring in its ethics, professionalism and information transparency.

  28. scotty501

    March 1, 2014 at 10:01 am

    There were at least THREE DIFFERENT NASTY RESPONSES

  29. chrisshouse

    March 3, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    Wow I can not even comprehend that type of behavior. Your friend is right what goes around comes around and Karma can be a bitch! As usual Lani your cutting edge stories are a joy to read.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 3, 2014 at 6:54 pm

      Chris, thank you so much for the kind words! Cleveland.com broke the story, but we were certainly the first to craft a response.

  30. Lani Rosales

    March 3, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    There is such an award, but some believe she will be stripped of her award.

  31. Lani Rosales

    March 3, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    Well said!

  32. Lani Rosales

    March 3, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    Really great point. We are all jerks sometimes, but it appears there is a pattern here.

  33. Lani Rosales

    March 3, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    I think you’re probably right. I hope not, but you probably are.

  34. Lani Rosales

    March 3, 2014 at 6:45 pm

    Amen!

  35. Lani Rosales

    March 3, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    I’d be shocked if she wasn’t signed up for Cat Facts Texts before this is all said and done….

  36. Lani Rosales

    March 3, 2014 at 6:47 pm

    Hopefully this will give her a dose of humility. I’m not holding out hope, though.

  37. Lani Rosales

    March 3, 2014 at 6:48 pm

    I wanted to think she was having a bad day, too, but the pattern established over the years is consistent, so I’m afraid that’s not likely the case. Good on YOU for offering something to the community, recognizing your own gains, and recognizing that the point of social media is to be social.

  38. Lani Rosales

    March 3, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    “Mean-spirited” is a good way to describe it. I would be hurt if someone responded in that manner. Beyond unprofessional.

  39. Lani Rosales

    March 3, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    Best part of your comment: “Ms. Blazek, if you really want to help people {find a job} it has to start without expecting any more than a sincere thank you.” YES. THIS.

  40. Lani Rosales

    March 3, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    Right!? Numbers don’t mean diddly in today’s market. Anyone can pay a click farm to “Like” their Facebook page, and so on. Any day, I’d take 10 attentive people over 1,000 strangers who don’t care.

  41. austinsho

    March 24, 2014 at 12:31 am

    Rudeness is never excusable.

  42. DMB

    April 1, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    I was nervous when I read the title to your editorial, pheww!! 🙂 I always like to see how people treat the little guy… if a person treats the little guy with respect it makes me admire and respect them. If someone treats the little guy badly, it totally turns me off and I just am left with a negative impression and it would make me think twice about collaborating with them. (I would try to find out if something was wrong in their personal life, you never know!) We are all human here regardless of a person’s job title, social standing, etc. My grandfather was a bank CEO and he LOVED to reach out to young and old (job seekers and employed), he got a thrill out of connecting with people with different point of views and found value in everyone. People loved him because he made them feel they had value. He dealt with farmers, people who didn’t finish their HS degree, college grads, rich, poor, young and old, execs from all sorts of industries and he connected with them with humor and humility. You would never know the person’s status based on his interactions with them. He was a true people person and I think it helped with his success in life. He came from a struggling family, fought in a war and then worked his way up the ranks and always gave back, just like people did for him. And you never know if that little guy/gal will turn into a big guy/gal down the road. never be nasty, never burn bridges.

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Opinion Editorials

Ways to socialize safely during quarantine

(EDITORIAL) Months of isolation due to quarantine is causing loneliness for many, but joining virtual social groups from home may help fill the need for interaction.

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Quarantining, sheltering in place, staying home. We’re tired of hearing it; we’re tired of doing it. Yet, it’s what we still need to be doing to stay safe for a while longer. All of this can be lonesome. As the days turn into weeks and weeks into months, the alone time is getting to even the most introverted among us.

Solitary confinement is considered one of the most psychologically damaging punishments a human can endure. The New Yorker reported on this in a 1992 study of prisoners in detention camps in the former Yugoslavia, as well as Vietnam veterans who experienced isolation. These studies showed that prisoners who had experienced solitary confinement demonstrated similar brain activity to those who’d suffered a severe head injury, noting that “Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic injury.”

We aren’t meant to be solitary creatures. Your “pandemic brain” is real. That fogginess, the lack of productivity, can be attributed to many things, including anxiety, but being kept apart from other humans is a big part of it too. Be kind to yourself, give yourself grace, and join others virtually. Be it an app, a class, a Facebook group, a chat room, or a livestream, someone somewhere is out there waiting to connect with you too.

The good news? We are lucky enough to live in an era of near limitless ways to interact socially online. Sure, it is different, but it is something. It’s important. The best thing about this type of social interaction is being able to hone in on your specific interests, though I’d caution you against getting caught in an online echo chamber. Diversity of interests, personality, and opinion make for a richer experience, with opportunities for connecting and expanding your worldview.

Here are a few suggestions on ways to socialize while staying home and staying safe. Communicating with other humans is good for you, physically and mentally.

Interactive Livestreams on Twitch:

Twitch is best known as a streaming service for video game fans, but it offers multiple streams appealing to different interests. This is more than passive watching (although that is an option, too) as Twitch livestream channels also have chat rooms. Twitch is fun for people who like multi-tasking because the chat rooms for popular livestream channels can get busy with chatter.

While people watch the Twitch hosts play a video game, film a live podcast, make music or art, mix cocktails, or dance, they can comment on what they’re watching, make suggestions, ask questions, crack jokes, and get to know each other (by Twitch handle, so it is still as anonymous as you want it to be) in the chat room. The best hosts take time every so often to interact directly with the chat room questions and comments.

Many Twitch channels develop loyal followers who get to know each other, thus forming communities. I have participated in the Alamo Drafthouse Master Pancake movie mocks a few times because they are fun and local to Austin, where I live. Plus, in my non-quarantine life, I would go to Master Pancake shows live sometimes. The chat room feels familiar in a nice way. While watching online is free, you can (and totally should) tip them.

Online trivia in real time:

There are some good options for real-time online trivia, but I’m impressed with the NYC Trivia League’s model. They have trivia games online on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. The NYC Trivia League seems to have figured out a good way to run the game live while keeping answers private from the other teams. They run games on Instagram Live with a live video of the host, and participants answer via the question feature. Clever!

Online book club:

First I have to shout out my Austin local independent bookstore, BookPeople, because they are fantastic. They run book clubs throughout the year, along with readings, book signings, and all things book-related. BookPeople hosts several online book clubs during these lockdown days, and most people will find something that appeals to them.

I’m also impressed with this list from Hugo House, a writer’s resource based out of Seattle. This list includes Instagram and Goodread book clubs, book clubs for Black women, rebels, and poetry lovers. The Financial Diet recommends the Reddit book club, if you are comfortable with the Reddit format. Please note that it’s a busy place, but if you like Reddit, you already know this.

Cooking class or virtual tasting:

This is doubly satisfying because you can follow these chefs in real time, and you end up with a meal. There are a couple on Instagram Live, such as The Culinistas or Chef Massimo Bottura.

You can also participate in virtual tastings for wine, whiskey, or chocolate, though you will have to buy the product to participate in the classes (usually held over Zoom or Facebook Live). If you are in Austin, Dallas, or Houston, I recommend BeenThere Locals. The cost of the course includes the wine, spirits, or cooking kit in most cases, and all of the money goes to the business and expert hosting the class.

Look for your favorite wine, spirits, cheese, chocolate makers, and chefs that are local to you to find a similar experience. Most either prepare the class kit for pickup or delivery within a local area.

Quarantine chat:

To interact with another quarantined person seeking social interaction, there’s Quarantine Chat. Quarantine chat is one of the ways to connect through the Dialup app, available on iOS and Android devices. Sign up to make and receive calls when you want to speak with someone. The Dialup app pairs you randomly with another person for a phone conversation, at a scheduled time, either with anyone or with someone with shared interests.

Quarantine chat takes it a step further with calls at random times. When your quarantine chat caller calls, you will not see their number (or they yours), only the “Quarantine Chat” caller ID. If you are unable to pick up when they call, they will be connected with someone else, so there is no pressure to answer. It’s nice to hear someone else’s voice, merely to talk about what you’ve been cooking or what hilarious thing your pet is doing.

Play Uno:

Uno Freak lets people set up games and play Uno online with friends or strangers. Players do not need to register or download anything to play. Uno Freak is web-based.

Talk to mental health professionals:

If your state of loneliness starts sliding toward depression, call someone you can speak to right away to talk over your concerns. When in doubt, call a trained professional! Here are a few resources:

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): The NAMI HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 am–6 pm, ET, 800-950-NAMI (6264) or info@nami.org.
  • Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to this text line 24/7 for someone to text with who will also be able to refer you to other resources: U.S. and Canada: 74174, U.K. 85258, Ireland: 50808.
  • Psych Central has put together this comprehensive list of crisis intervention specialists and ways to contact them immediately.

There are many ways to connect even though we are physically apart. These are just a few real time ways to interact with others online. If you want something a little more flesh and blood, take a walk around the block or even sit in a chair in front of where you live.

Wave at people from afar, and remember that we have lots of brilliant doctors and scientists working on a way out of this. Hang in there, buddy. I’m rooting for you. I’m rooting for all of us.

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Opinion Editorials

Working remotely: Will we ever go back? (Probably not)

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Now that the pandemic has opened the door on working remotely, there’s no way we’ll put the genie back in the bottle. But, here’s some ways you can adapt.

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Woman working remotely on her couch with a laptop on her lap.

When it comes to working remotely, will the toothpaste ever go back in the tube?

Mark Zuckerberg recently said, “We are going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale…” By 2030, Zuckerberg anticipates that over half of Facebook’s workforce will be remote. Many other companies are jumping on the work from home bandwagon. Working remotely has helped many businesses manage the pandemic crisis, but it’s unsure what form remote working will take over the next 10 years.

We know that employees are responding positively to WFH, as reported in this article – Employers: Lacking remote work options may cause you to lose employees. As offices transition to a post-COVID normal, here are some things to consider about your office and remote work.

What does your business gain from allowing workers to WFH?
The future of remote work depends on a conscious application of WFH. It’s not just as easy as moving employees out of the office to home. You have to set up a system to manage workers, wherever they are working. The companies with good WFH cultures have set up rules and metrics to know whether it’s working for their business. You’ll need to have technology and resources that let your teams work remotely.

Can your business achieve its goals through remote work?
The pandemic may have proved the WFH model, but is this model sustainable? There are dozens of benefits to remote work. You can hire a more diverse workforce. You may save money on office space. Employees respond well to remote work. You reduce your carbon emissions.

But that can’t be your only measure of whether remote work fits into your vision for your organization. You should be looking at how employees will work remotely, but you need to consider why employees work remotely.

The work paradigm is shifting – how will you adapt?
The work environment has shifted over the past century. Remote work is here to stay, but how it fits into your company should be based on more than what employees want. You will have to work closely with managers and HR to build the WFH infrastructure that grows with your organization to support your teams.

We don’t know exactly how remote work will change over the next decade, but we do know that the workplace is being reinvented. Don’t just jump in because everyone is doing it. Make an investment in developing your WFH plan.

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Opinion Editorials

The truth about unemployment from someone who’s been through it

(EDITORIAL) Unemployment benefits aren’t what you thought they were. Here’s a first-hand experience and what you need to know.

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unemployment

Have I ever told you how I owed the government over two grand because of unemployment in 2019, and only just finished paying it back this year?

This isn’t exactly the forum for memoirs, but this is relevant to everyone. So I’ll tell y’all anyway.

It all started back in 2018 when I came into work early, microwaved my breakfast, poured coffee, and got pulled into a collaboration room to hear, “We love you and your work, April, but we’ve been bought out and you’re being laid off.”

It was kind of awkward carrying my stuff out to the car with that Jimmy Dean sandwich in my mouth.

More awkward still was the nine months of unemployment I went through afterwards. Between the fully clothed shower crying, the stream of job denial, catering to people who carried rocks in their nostrils at my part-time job (yes, ew, yes, really), and almost dying of no-health-insurance-itis, I learned a lot!

The bigger lesson though, came in the spring of the following year when I filed my taxes. I should back up for a moment and take the time to let those of you unfamiliar with unemployment in Texas in on a few things that aren’t common knowledge.

1: You’re only eligible if you were laid off. Not if you had quit. Not fired. Your former company can also choose to challenge your eligibility for benefits if they didn’t like your face on the way out. So the only way you’re 100% guaranteed to get paid in (what the state calls) “a timely manner”, is a completely amicable split.

2: Overpayments have to go back. Immediately. If there’s an error, like several thousand of Texans found out this week, the government needs that cash back before you can access any more. If you’re not watching your bank account to make sure you’re getting the exact same check each time and you have an overpayment, rest assured that mistake isn’t going to take long to correct. Unfortunately, if you spent that money unknowingly–thought you got an ‘in these uncertain times’ kinder and gentler adjustment and have 0 income, you have a problem. Tying into Coronavirus nonsense is point three!

3: There are no sick days. If ever you’re unable to work for any reason, be it a car accident, childbirth, horrible internal infection (see also no-health-insurance-itis), you are legally required to report it, and you will not be paid for any days you were incapacitated. Personally, my no-health-insurance-itis came with a bad fever and bedrest order that axed me out of my part time job AND killed my unemployment benefits for the week I spent getting my internal organs to like me again. But as it turned out, the payment denial came at the right time because–

4: Unemployment benefits are finite. Even if you choose to lie on your request forms about how hard you’re searching for work, coasting is ill-advised because once the number the state allots you runs out…it’s out. Don’t lie on your request forms, by the way. In my case, since I got cut from my part-time gig, I got a call from the Texas Workforce Commission about why my hours were short. I was able to point out where I’d reported my sickness to them and to my employer, so my unpaid week rolled over to a later request date. I continued to get paid right up until my hiring date which was also EXACTLY when my benefits ran out.

Unemployment isn’t a career, which is odd considering the fact that unemployment payments are qualified by the government as income.

Ergo, fact number five…

5: Your benefits? They’re taxed.

That’s right, you will be TAXED for not having a job.

The stereotype of the ‘lazy unemployment collector burdening society’ should be fading pretty quickly for the hitherto uninformed about now.

To bring it back to my story, I’d completely forgotten that when I filed for unemployment in the first place, I’d asked for my taxes NOT to be withheld from it–assuming that I wasn’t going to be searching for full time work for very long. I figured “Well, I’ll have a tax refund coming since I’ll get work again no problem, it’ll cancel out.”

Except, it was a problem. Because of the nine month situation.

I’d completely forgotten about it by the time I threw myself into my new job, but after doing my taxes, triple checking the laws and what I’d signed, it was clear. Somehow…despite being at my lowest point in life, I owed the highest amount in taxes, somewhere around the 2k mark.

Despite being based on a system that’s tied to how much income you were getting before, and all the frustrating “safeguards” put in place to keep payments as low and infrequent as possible, Uncle Sam still wants a bite out of the gas-station Hostess pie that is your unemployment check. And as I’m writing this, more and more people are finding that out. And even as we enter 2021, there is still more to be aware of – we’re not out of the woods yet.

I’d like to end this on a more positive note… So let’s say we’ve all been positively educated! That’s a net gain, surely.

Keep your heads up, and masked.

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