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The Disappearing Act: Are You Battling Ghosts At Work??

In the spirit of Halloween, let’s talk about ghosts today!

What is ghosting? The Urban Dictionary provides a helpful definition: “The act of suddenly ceasing all communication with someone the subject is dating, but no longer wishes to date. This is done in hopes that the ghostee will just “get the hint” and leave the subject alone, as opposed to the subject simply telling them he/she is no longer interested. Ghosting is not specific to a certain gender and is closely related to the subject’s maturity and communication skills. Many attempt to justify ghosting as a way to cease dating the ghostee without hurting their feelings, but it in fact proves the subject is thinking more of themselves, as ghosting often creates more confusion for the ghostee than if the subject kindly stated how he/she feels.”

Obviously, this definition was written with ghosting in the romantic realm in mind. But believe you me, it resonates with many in the land of recruiting and hiring.

What´s wrong in dating is wrong in the workplace
What started in online dating has spilled over to the world of work. Although I do not have concrete numbers on the phenomenon, judging by the lively discussions of the topic on LinkedIn, it seems bad enough to make many people nauseous.

This blog article lists a few concrete examples of what may happen in the workplace.

First of all, there are instances of candidates ghosting during the hiring process:

  • Job applicants don’t show up for interviews and stop responding to communication.
  • The candidate makes it through the interview process and never responds to the job offer.
  • The job offer is accepted, but the employee doesn’t show up for work.
  • Job seekers may also ghost recruiters if they feel the jobs aren’t relevant to their search or if the recruiter is difficult to work with. (And from personal experience, even when the recruiter is fantastic to work with!)

Bad enough. But it does not stop there. In fact, employees may ghost you after they were hired.

  • Current employee finds another job and, instead of handing in notice, stops coming to work.
  • Employee walks out during the work day, maybe during lunch, and never returns to work.

Ouch. That last one reminds me of a personal situation when I was working in downtown D.C.  One of our employees left the office for what appeared to be a rather long lunch.  Looking for her around 4:00, I noticed that all the shoes which usually cluttered one corner of the cubical were missing.  Why would she take so many pairs of shoes to lunch?  Well, I have a good guess, but I never had the chance to ask.  We never heard from her again.

As a business, you cannot afford something like that happening to you. Read on to find out how to become a ghostbuster.

The big question: Why does this happen?
To find out what you can do, it helps to think about why people ghost in the workplace.

On face value, it seems to be a natural outflow of a job market that has already turned from tight to outright shortage. In times with more open positions than unemployed people, many aren’t rubbing coins together wondering where next month’s paycheck is coming from. In fact, they are quitting and job-hopping in droves.

And when the fruits hang low, a certain sloppy carelessness creeps in.

However, there are other, more complicated reasons, including:

  • Psychology – you know what they say: breaking up is hard to do. Many people simply shy away from a situation where they know the other side will be disappointed.
  • Malice – obviously there may also be instances where something happened during the interview process or at work and made people so angry that they want to get even.
  • Quid pro quo– people are regularly told “we’ll get back to you” after an interview.  Unfortunately, more times than not, that promise is never fulfilled.
  • Sign of the times – I personally feel that ghosting also has a lot to do with our Internet age in which communication has become not only easier and instantaneous but also more superficial and haphazard. Sometimes it seems that online, common courtesy is disappearing as completely as correct spelling did.

I wish I could tell you that ghosting is an easy to explain phenomenon. But it isn´t. Each case is in some way unique.

However, one thing’s for sure: ghosting is completely unacceptable. Everybody loses. The damage to employers and recruiters is quite obvious. But even the ghost herself gets hurt in more ways than she may imagine.  In my next article, I dig a little deeper into what ghosting means to companies and candidates and what both sides can do to avoid it.