Ghosting… Not Just For Halloween and Dating Anymore

When we were raising our Millennials and Gen-Zers, Ghosting meant leaving a bag of candy on a friend’s porch, ringing and running. As they grew, Ghosting morphed into bravely ending a romance by no longer responding to texts, emails, and voicemails. Classy, but after all, their relationship probably started by text too. And now that they’re all grown up, the little devils are Ghostingemployers.

Ghosting an employer looks like this: an applicant fails to show up for an interview; a new hire doesn’t come to the first day of work; or an existing employee secretly quits by disappearing forever, all without a word. Hiring managers and recruiters report that this phenomenon is occurring at large and small businesses and at all levels, from professionals to minimum wage earners. With unemployment at an 18 year low and the feds reporting that there are more open jobs than unemployed workers, this behavior might not be surprising. And yet it is, at least to those of us who cannot imagine quitting a job without having the decency to tell the boss.

We know some of you tough Ghostbusters are saying, we ain’t afraid of no ghosts; but you ought to be because Ghosting is disruptive and costly and employers need to take steps to counter this trend. Avoiding vulnerability to Ghosting does require some understanding of its root causes. Some have theorized that it is learned behavior. Professor Peter Cappelli of the Wharton Center for Human Resources says, “I think they have learned it from the employers. Employers were notorious for never getting back to people.” Others simply describe Ghosting as payback from the days that employers had the upper hand in recruiting.

Let’s face it, the more likely cause is simple: most people don’t like confrontation or awkward conversations. And some of us can’t get enough of them. But Millennials and Gen-Zers grew up emailing and texting, making them less experienced at tough chats. In person communication is typically not their first choice (sometimes even while under the same roof). Developing a genuine rapport through electronic communication is unlikely and that depersonalization is contributing to employees’ willingness to walk away without a word. To deal with this, employers must regularly create opportunities to talk to employees in person. Establishing a more personal bond with employees will no doubt improve communication and hopefully a higher degree of loyalty, reducing the likelihood of them disappearing without a trace.

It is also important to look for early warning signs of employee dissatisfaction. Employees who suddenly start coming in late, missing work or deadlines may be on the brink of vanishing. Meeting with an employee who’s showing those signs, just to ask what’s happening, might be a good way to ward off the sudden appearance of an apparition in your workforce.

Keep in mind that cultivating loyalty among these younger generations requires a focus on what they want. A recent Forbes article indicates that Millennials will sell their ghostly souls for flexible work opportunities (meaning hours and work from home), matching charitable gift contribution policies, paid time off for charity work, more options to save for retirement and that catch-all, work-life balance–whatever the heck that means.

Some of those options might be worth considering in order to avoid what one Virginia employer experienced. In a recent AP story, the business owner explained that when a telecommuting employee missed a deadline, he tried unsuccessfully to contact him. Shortly after, the employee’s friend called the boss to deliver the sad news that the employee had died. The distraught boss wanted to send flowers and while he couldn’t find the obituary anywhere, he did see a Tweet posted by the ghost of his former employee, appearing days after he had passed away. Faking your own death to avoid quitting – that must be Extreme Ghosting. At least it’s good to know that even after we’re dead, we can still Tweet.

So let’s remember, if you fear that you are being Ghosted…who you gonna call? That’s right…Kluger Healey.

Happy Halloween!