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Ghosting has now become an HR problem

As if receiving abrupt rejection in your personal life wasn’t enough, “ghosting” is now finding its way into the workplace too.

What was once just an unkind way to rid yourself of an unwanted date is now seeping into the office. “Ghosting” – the act of disappearing without notice and cutting off all communication –  is fast becoming a strange phenomenon in the workplace, in Australia and beyond, putting the pressure onto HR and hiring managers to provide solutions to the sudden depletion of talent.

Picture this. You’ve sat through three excellent interviews with a potential new recruit and we all know what happens after the third date… you hire them! So today’s the day, you’re ready to onboard, but the employee doesn’t turn up on time. You check your watch, refresh your emails, make sure your phone is working properly… nothing.

“Maybe they’ve been in an accident?”

“Maybe they’ve been kidnapped?”

“What if they’re dead?!”

All possible, but not likely. Chances are you’ve just fallen victim to a ghoster. Welcome to the club.

Casper the not-so-friendly ghost

You say a lot, without having to say anything at all, when you ghost someone. Employers will only become aware that the employee has quit, or declined an opportunity, after numerous unsuccessful attempts to get in contact.

But why are employees choosing the quick escape route instead of taking the appropriate channels?

Perhaps it’s due to inexperience or a move to avoid having an awkward conversation. (At least that’s what we tell our friends when the same behaviour is exhibited in the world of dating. “It’s not about you. You’re better off without them.”)

However, maybe it’s because what you’re offering just isn’t up to scratch and with a plethora of job options at their fingertips, another role captured their attention (they met someone else).

Karen Gatley, director at HR consultancy firm Ryan Gatley, says there has been an erosion of trust in employment relationships. People might be inclined to “ghost” an employer because they no longer have a sense of accountability around the impact of their decision. People tend to behave this way when they’re at a loss or they don’t think addressing their concerns with a manager will make any difference.

“Gone are the days where employees have a strong belief that their employer will do the right thing, which means the attitude of ‘looking after number one’ has really heightened. We have far more of an individualistic mindset around our careers.

“I understand why people don’t feel that depth of loyalty anymore but I also don’t think it’s a smart move to leave on such circumstances; you never know who your next boss could be”, she says.

Blink and you’ll miss them

This disappearing act isn’t just reserved for existing disgruntled employees. Increasingly, people are failing to turn up to their job interviews or simply not arriving to their first day of work, according to a recent post from LinkedIn’s managing editor Chip Cutter.

“The practice is prolonging hiring, forcing companies to overhaul their processes and tormenting recruiters, who find themselves under constant pressure,” says Cutter.

While traditionally it might have been the employer leaving a candidate in the dark regarding the outcome of their application, perhaps now the power is in the employee’s hand?

“At times, there can be an arrogant view from an employer’s perspective –  we’ve got a job and you need it – but it’s got to be a buy and sell relationship. Some employers are just buying without properly selling themselves. People are prepared to walk away from a job opportunity if they think the organisation’s culture isn’t something they want to be involved with,” says Gatley.

From the employer perspective, it’s imperative that all recruitment relationships are approached with clarity and authenticity. Job seeking is stressful so it helps to keep the process quick, keep candidates updated and, if they’re valued, act like it.

Gatley refers to a business that recently made a new hire that was required to relocate for the position. The business had forgotten to mention that relocation costs weren’t included and the soon to be employee only thought to ask about any costs the day before they were due to start. Upon discovering that they were expected to fund the move themselves, they simply didn’t turn up the next day and the recruitment process went back to square one.

How to be a ghost-ing buster

Most modern awards stipulate that employees must give a certain amount of notice of their intention to resign before doing so, says Trent Hancock, principal lawyer at McDonald Murholme.

“If the employer can demonstrate that the employee’s breach of the employment contract and/or the award has caused it to incur loss (e.g. in having to recruit a temporary employee to cover the notice period), this loss can be claimed from the employee.”

If an employee fails to provide adequate notice or decides to abandon their employment all together the employer no longer has an obligation to pay the employees ordinary wages, says Hancock, but the employer must still pay that employee their accrued leave and undertaken leave entitlement.

From an HR perspective, Gatley says this is all less likely to happen if you have a workplace culture that’s built on trust and respect.

“It’s not about giving people everything they want but if there’s a sense of belonging and honesty people are less likely to up and leave. People have to trust that HR absolutely cares about the employee experience and are proactively trying to influence that through coaching and education.”

Has your workplace been haunted with a ghost? Or have you ever ghosted an employer before? Share your comments below.

Image: Andri via Pexels.

Keep up to date on the legislative and regulatory changes that influence your organisation’s risks, rights and responsibilities around issues such as recruitment and dismissals, with the AHRI short course ‘Managing the legal issues across the employment lifecycle’.

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David Brice
David Brice

All too common with blue collar roles…and has been for some time.

Tasman McManis
Tasman McManis

“While traditionally it might have been the employer leaving a candidate in the dark regarding the outcome of their application, perhaps now the power is in the employee’s hand?” I wonder if anyone has been chased by a recruiter about a possible role only to have the communication pipeline go silent…no communication of any type to advise that you have not been successful or are no longer being considered. All too common. Maybe employees have picked up on the poor habits of some employers and recruiters. Apparently it is not so positive when the boot is on the other foot.

Heidi Bushell
Heidi Bushell

And don’t forget when someone is interviewing for the role you’ve got, they are actively in the market and have probably applied for half a dozen other roles. If they aren’t happy at any point in the process and for the next few weeks after starting, they may well have other offers or opportunities available to them, making this period at higher probability of ‘flight risk’.

Jen Alder
Jen Alder

I do HR for a company with a lot of long-termers (I spend a lot of time processing long service leave). Of course there is room for improvement but, all-in-all, it’s a great place to work and staff surveys show that most of the staff agree on this point. However, I have recently had three new staff members go home and simply not return. I also regularly have people I have booked for interviews not show up. This can’t possibly be blamed on company culture as their only contact with us (presumably) is a friendly phone call asking them to… Read more »

David Moss
David Moss

The trend in HR has been to ghost applicants for many years now. Even a simple e-mail informing applicants they are unsuccessful is too much effort. Actual individual feedback regarding the reason for rejection is almost unheard of. The HR industry is precious to complain when they receive the same treatment from applicants. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. If HR wants to reverse the culture of ghosting it can set an example by treating applicants the way it wants them to treat HR.

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