Ghosting: The Latest Forgettable Workplace Trend

Oct 30 , 2018

woman behind screen looks like a ghost

Maybe I’m old school, but I believe in two-way communication. I feel a moral obligation to respond if someone takes the time to call me or send me an email or text. While I don’t extend this obligation to telemarketers, I respond expeditiously to friends and acquaintances with a reply or at least a promise of one shortly thereafter. Yet so often, I do not receive the same courtesy on the other end of the communication channel.

I’ve sent many emails requesting a response only to receive no reply or even acknowledgement of receiving the message. Often, I’ll run into the non-responder weeks later who’ll address my email at that moment, acting as if their delayed and accidental method of response is perfectly natural.

The same level of unresponsiveness is starting to rear its ugly head in the workplace becoming commonplace enough to earn its own name: ghosting.

 

What is ghosting?

Ghosting can occur in a number of different forms. Examples include: candidates failing to show up to interviews without a word, accepting a job and missing out on the first day (with no explanation given), or leaving a job without notice or even acknowledgement of formally quitting. Ghosting seems to be a growing trend in the prospective employee realm. Candidates apply for a job, undergo the prerequisites required for the job, pass a background and reference check then are never heard from again. What would cause a person to go dark when they seemed fully interested the job just days earlier?

According to Chip Cutter of The Wall Street Journal, “Some of the behavior may stem not from malice, but inexperience. Professionals who entered the workforce a decade ago, during the height of the Great Recession, have never encountered a job market this strong. The unemployment rate is at an 18-year low. More open jobs exist than unemployed workers, the first time that’s happened since the Labor Dept. began keeping such records in 2000. The rate of professionals quitting their jobs hit a record level in March; among those who left their companies, almost two thirds voluntarily quit.”

It’s one thing to apply for a job and change your mind, it’s another thing to fall off the radar entirely. What possesses someone to think it’s ok to just disappear? In most cases, it comes down to wanting to avoid conflict. Many of these candidates would rather take their chances that their paths will never again cross with this company (or the recruiter) then have to have the uncomfortable conversation that they’ve had a change of heart.

 

It can happen to anyone

Ghosting has taken place for years but candidates are not the only guilty party. How many candidates are forced to send out dozens of resumes to multiple employers, knowing they are not going to hear back from a majority of them? Those that do receive an initial call of interest often hear nothing further. For years, companies inundated with resumes and candidates felt no obligation to follow up with the candidates that were not chosen. Companies considered this to be standard practice, while candidates were essentially left hanging.

If you think this is something that only happens at the entry-level or with inexperienced candidates, think again.

I once had the pleasure of meeting a major league pitcher who confided in me that he had effectively worked out a contract with a major league ballclub. The deal was struck on Christmas Day, giving the pitcher an extra reason to celebrate that particular year. The years, dollars and details were all worked out verbally, with only the official contract to sign to make it official. The ballclub wished him a Merry Christmas and said they’d be in touch in a couple of days.

After a few days passed, no word came from the ballclub about next steps. The agent called the team. No answer and no returned calls whatsoever. This wasn’t a marginal ballplayer either; it was top of his game, bonafide star who got ghosted by the ballclub when they had a change of heart and went in a different direction.

 

The shift

It seems that all the years of employers acting poorly through the recruitment process are coming home to roost.

Cutter’s article quoted Peter Cappelli, a management professor and director of Wharton's Center for Human Resources. “Candidates - scarred from years of applying for jobs, spending hours preparing for interviews, only to get form rejections back - may not be to blame for going cold. I think they have learned it from the employers,” he said. “Employers were notorious for never getting back to people, and only letting them know what was going on if it turned out they wanted them to go to the next step.”

A shift has taken place in the marketplace because there are more jobs available than people to fill them. Now it’s the candidates, not the company, that have started to turn the cold shoulder.

In a recent article by Bustle’s Isami McCowan, an interesting stat from the Bureau of Labor Statistics data confirms the rise of quitting jobs: 2.4 percent of workers quit their jobs this May, which is almost double the 1.3 percent that called it quits in May of 2010. People are becoming more choosy about where they work, and job hopping is on the rise.

The moral of the story is that ghosting can occur on either side of the fence and in any level of the workforce, from entry level to very high-skilled positions. And no, it’s not a millennial thing; people of all ages and generations are ghosting employers and being ghosted by employers.

 

Repercussions

With the tide shifting and the ghosting taking place by candidates more so than employers these days, are there repercussions to those who leave an employer or recruiter in the lurch?

You never know what tomorrow will bring and who will play an important role in your life. There’s always repercussions and they manifest in ways we’d never imagine.

As an outspoken youth, I was once cut from my grade school’s baseball team. Equal parts surprised and hurt, I expressed my displeasure to the team manager with a few choice words unfit for print. Telling off the manager helped me blow off steam and felt good for about ten minutes. What I failed to consider at the time was that I’d be joining a new team that summer in my city league. Guess who the manager turned out to be? It made for a very uncomfortable situation. The wrong words, or a lack of words altogether, can have the same negative effect. Don’t burn the bridge!

It all comes down to a few “C’s:” courtesy, communication and common sense. Chances are, the person doing the ghosting will be in the job market at some future time. Why burn a bridge when common courtesy through a simple phone call or email could leave things on better terms? You never know when may cross paths with that person in the future. Having as many allies in your court can only help your chances of success.

 

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About the Author

Dave Clark