Nov 13, 2019

Michelle BraniganBy Michelle Branigan

Have you been “ghosted” yet?

No, I’m not referring to some strange Halloween game, but rather a phenomenon which is becoming increasingly prevalent in the workplace. While the term originally referred to the dating world and what happens when someone you're involved with suddenly stops making any contact, it has now entered the workplace.

Definition of ghosting: “The practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.”

What does that look like for an employer? In my own workplace, it has recently manifested itself in a number of ways:

• candidates not showing up for an interview

• the selected candidate not showing up on the first day of the job

• not returning phone calls as to why the individual was a no-show

Other organizations have reported experiences with employees that quit with no notice. They go home and never come back, leaving the employer to wonder just what went wrong.

Why is this happening?

Canada is experiencing an increasingly tight labour market with some of the lowest unemployment rates in years, and employers are competing against each other for the same pool of talent. As the job market heats up potential employees may have multiple job offers, and play employers against each other right to up to the signing of a contract. Even then that contract may not be worth the piece of paper it’s written on — and is no guarantee the new hire will show up for his or her first day of work.

Others think that it’s a result of passive “payback”. For the many years when unemployment rates were high, employers had the upper hand when it came to hiring, and not following up after interviews was a common practice. Now that we’re seeing a shrinking labour market combined with a workforce that is much more mobile than before, there is a perceived shift in the balance of power.

Yet others think that a younger generation just has different attitudes toward potential or current employers.

While there’s no hard data on ghosting, CBC News contacted recruiters in Calgary, Toronto and Montreal who observed that candidates who ghost most often tend to be younger workers in the first 5 to 10 years of their career. Katie Dolgin, the co-founder of Toronto recruitment firm Found People Inc., observed that ghosting has increased from a rare occurrence a few years ago to something that affects 15 to 20% of client job postings. According to multiple recruitment firms contacted by CBC News, the problem has increased over the past 12 to 18 months and is being seen for positions in all sorts of positions, including manufacturing, accounting, financial services, insurance, law, marketing and sales. 
Whatever the reason, it’s become an added burden in the workplace.

As many readers know the recruitment process can be long and arduous — but so rewarding when you find the right candidate, someone you think it a great fit for your organization. Having recently spent a summer growing our team here at EHRC, I and my management team have sat through numerous interviews, and been lucky enough to find some wonderful new team members.

However, when that process is suddenly derailed it can be mentally exhausting and demotivating for everyone involved. This is even more true when the employee has spent a few days in the office and been introduced to their new colleagues.

What to do?

There not much you can do with someone who has disappeared, and you have to consider if it’s really worth your time to chase them to find out why (believe me: it’s not).

Use your current employees as ambassadors for your organization and ask them to share job postings with their peers.

• Review your compensation package — is it competitive in today’s market? And if you are a smaller company with the ability to pay less than an Amazon or Google, focus on what else you can offer, be that opportunities for growth or additional vacation time.

• Create a good impression during the job interview process — remember it goes both ways.

• Make sure your onboarding process is robust and that there is always someone available to take questions in those first few weeks.

• When interviewing allow more time than you think you will need to find the right hire — you may get ghosted and have to start all over again.

In summary

It would be nice to say that ghosting is a trend that will go away over time, or that any downturn on the job market will see it disappear altogether. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to know and so employers need to be prepared.

And for those of you who have engaged in this type of behaviour, remember that this type of unprofessionalism carries risks. The world is getting smaller and the hiring manager you ghost today may be the person holding the keys to your dream job somewhere down the line.

Michelle Branigan is CEO, Electricity Human Resources Canada.