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Ask a Recruiter: What’s the Deal with Ghosting in the Workforce?

Employees do it. Employers do it. But does that make it okay?

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InHerSight asked Dania Shaheen, vice president for people and strategy for Kazoo, about what the rise of ghosting in the workforce says about employees and employers. These are her answers, in her own words. Are you a recruiter with job advice to share? Email our managing editor Beth Castle at beth@inhersight.com for consideration.

What’s your elevator pitch?

As Vice President of People & Strategy, I’m a key member of the senior leadership team at Kazoo, where I lead human resources, talent development, value creation, and M&A strategy and execution. I’m passionate about driving change, enabling creative thought among teams, and developing actionable solutions. Prior to my career at Kazoo, I held a variety of strategic and operational roles at AT&T, focused on driving market and business expansion.

Let’s talk about employee ghosting. What is it exactly and when in the employment “lifecycle” does it occur? How common is it?

Today’s competitive hiring market and record-low unemployment rates have catapulted employee ghosting to the top of the list of growing concerns for recruiters and HR leaders. Ghosting can occur in any stage of the employee lifecycle—from the interviewing, hiring and onboarding processes all the way through offboarding efforts. When an applicant ghosts a potential employer, it usually signals that the applicant is no longer in the job market. But when an employee ghosts their current employer—either during the onboarding process or within their first 90 days—it typically means that the role isn’t a good fit or they don’t feel comfortable speaking up to their managers or in their workplaces. 

Why don’t employees or interviewees just tell their bosses they want to quit or the hiring manager they don’t want to interview? Why go through the awkwardness of ghosting an employer? 

Employees often don’t tell their boss they want to quit because trust and a two-way line of communication hasn’t been established between the duo. By holding frequent check-ins and encouraging open communication, managers give employees the opportunity to share their concerns on a consistent basis, which may actually prevent them from leaving in the first place.

On the other hand, interviewees who ghost hiring managers are often juggling multiple interviews and even job offers at once. When there are more jobs than there are people looking for them, high performers can take their pick when they want a new job—and with which companies they want to interview. 

So what can HR leaders do? It goes beyond attracting, retaining, and developing potential job candidates. HR leaders must also be great at marketing to them and building out their company’s brand so interviewees don’t want to ghost them in the interview process.  

What can companies do to keep interviewees or hires from ghosting?

It’s important to remember that despite the wide variety of types of employee ghosting, it’s largely a learned behavior. Past employers’ bad business practices may have taught employees that ghosting is part of business as usual. HR leaders and managers can work to change this standard by setting a new precedent for these employees. In any HR situation, employers should take care not to ghost anyone themselves and maintain clear, courteous channels of communication with potential and existing employees. 

To prevent current employees from ghosting, managers should schedule weekly 1-on-1s in and employee’s first 30, 60, and even 90 days to assess how they’re settling into their new role. As a follow-up, managers can work with their new hires to track their performance over the first 90 days and proactively address any signs of trouble as soon as they arise. Creating a strong feedback culture within an organization that encourages fearless, open dialogue is also key to preventing employee ghosting. This way, existing employees—or those on their way out—feel comfortable giving notice or having awkward conversations without fear of retribution. 

Can ghosting affect your future job prospects?

Ghosting during the hiring process generally signals the applicant is no longer on the job market, that they received and accepted a job offer elsewhere without telling you. It also tends to happen more with entry-level candidates, who may ghost if they feel too much pressure during the interview process and want to avoid letting the employer down. 

If you ghost once or twice during your job hunt, it likely won’t impact your future job prospects, unless you’re interested in another role with the company down the line. But if ghosting becomes a habit, recruiters, and employers may take note. To play it safe and put your best foot forward during your job hunt, avoid ghosting whenever possible. Don’t hesitate to be transparent and let employers know if you’ve accepted a role elsewhere, or simply aren’t interested in the position at this time. Although it may feel awkward at the moment, employers will appreciate your honesty and professionalism. 

Other than just not showing up, what are some more professional ways to communicate disinterest with employers?

It’s as simple as a quick email or phone call to let hiring managers know you’re off the market or not interested in the job opportunity. Be honest, straightforward, professional, and polite in your communication. It’s equally as important that hiring managers let interviewees know when positions have been filled so that this experience won’t leave a bad taste in candidates’ mouths moving forward, should another position open up at the company where they may be a good fit.  

Read more: No, Thanks! How to Reject a Job Offer (Like the Professional You Are)

Honestly, employers have been ghosting job candidates for years, but that doesn’t mean it’s right from either perspective. Talk about what ghosting as an employer says about management style and company culture. How does it evolve with the job market?

Companies and employees need to prioritize their employees no matter where they stand in the employee lifecycle and how the current job market changes. It’s this belief in the future of work being built on the employee experience and putting employees first that will make companies excellent, engaging places to work. Being able to provide opportunities of growth for employees, help them find meaning in their work, and appreciating and celebrating employees for their everyday successes will be the differentiator between a successful company and one that falls flat when people are searching for a new job. 

Ghosting at any stage in the employee lifecycle shows that employers aren’t focusing on their employees and providing the best culture for them to thrive, which is a red flag to candidates that the company’s culture may have not been the best fit for them anyway.

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By Beth Castle

Managing Editor, InHerSight

Beth Castle is on staff at InHerSight, where she writes about workplace rights, diversity and inclusion, allyship, and feminism. Her bylines include Fast Company, Charlotte magazine, The Charlotte Observer, SouthPark magazine, Southbound magazine, and Atlanta magazine. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

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