Over the weekend, LinkedIn published a fascinating story on what has become many companies' newest nightmare: employee "ghosting."

"In fields ranging from food service to finance, recruiters and hiring managers say a tightening job market and a sustained labor shortage have contributed to a surge in professionals abruptly cutting off contact and turning silent--the type of behavior more often associated with online dating than office life," writes LinkedIn's Chip Cutter. "The practice is prolonging hiring, forcing companies to overhaul their processes, and tormenting recruiters, who find themselves under constant pressure."

So, what does "ghosting" look like?

A job candidate may agree to an interview and never show up. Or they may go so far as to accept a job, yet never appear for the first day of work. And the behavior isn't limited to candidates; companies have increasingly reported stories of employees who simply leave and never return, no formal resignation, no explanation given.

"Bosses realize they've quit only after a series of unsuccessful attempts to reach them," Cutter writes. "The hiring process begins anew."

Why do employees ghost?

From where exactly does this behavior stem? It's a complex question. The truth is, there are multiple contributing factors.

For one thing, the unemployment rate is lower than it has been in almost two decades. With more open jobs than unemployed persons, workers have a newfound advantage: If they don't like a job situation, or if they find something better, it's easier than ever to go find something else.

Another factor has to do with the effects technology have had on the communication style of younger generations. Social media and messaging apps have helped persons establish relationships quicker, but a lack of face-to-face conversation and personal contact often make for relationships that lack depth.

Simply put, many feel no need to have an awkward conversation with a recruiter or manager if they can take the easy way out and ghost them.

But there's another factor companies are now forced to consider:

They're simply getting a taste of their own medicine.

"Let's remember that employers ghost their employees all the time," stated one LinkedIn commenter. "Have you ever worked at a company where management decided to lay off 30 percent of the workforce so they could hit the numbers to earn their bonuses? Employees find out on Friday afternoon that they won't be allowed inside the building on Monday morning ... 'At will' employment is a brutal arrangement in which employees can quit at any time for any reason and employers can fire employees at any time for any reason. Hate the game, not the players."

So, what can company leaders do to discourage potential and current employees from ghosting?

Emotional intelligence can help. Here are a few tips to get started:

1. Be respectful.

Remember that respect begets respect. 

When companies and recruiters treat people like people, and not like commodities that are a begrudging yet necessary expense, they can create an environment where people are more likely to respond in kind. 

2. Be transparent.

Technology has made the need for direct and transparent communication more important than ever. Work hard to maintain consistent and honest communication with the people you're dealing with. Don't mislead them with false promises or unrealistic hopes.

In other words, keep it real.

3. Cut your losses.

Like it or not, ghosting has become the new normal. Companies must learn to adapt, or they will continue to suffer heavy losses. For example, companies might consider streamlining onboarding procedures to get new employees going more quickly, which will also accommodate for new employees who never show up. 

Finally, remember that in many cases ghosting is indicative of future behavior, or is at least a sign that things would have eventually ended badly. So, if you're the victim of ghosting--whether you're the employer or the employee--count your blessings, move on, and endeavor to find a match that works for you.

Published on: Jun 25, 2018