"Sarah didn't show up for work this morning and she's not even answering my text messages," says the panicked entrepreneur.

Not unlike the world of dating, small business owners and large corporations alike are being ghosted by vanishing employees. Employees and even job applicants are abandoning employers and avoiding the awkward goodbye altogether. It's an escalating problem, and it's not about to go away. 

The once professional courtesy of a two-week notice has all but lost its relevance in today's business world. For the first time in decades, it's an employee's market, since the unemployment rate has clung to a 49-year low since the fall. Companies are in the unique position of competing for talent, even at entry-level.

The tables have turned.

When an employer is unhappy with or can no longer afford an employee, they can let them go on the spot. Many corporations are ruthless about it, informing their staff of layoffs just before the end-of-year holidays. This is called at-will employment, which means that the employer can sever the relationship with no notice and for no stated cause. Employees have the same options available to them but, until now, it's been rare for them to exercise this right. Times have changed. Work-life balance has become more of a priority for younger generations.

Stop blaming spoiled millennials.

You can blame millennial thinking all you want but, in my experience, much of the job-related ghosting phenomenon is due to employees feeling overworked and under-appreciated on the job. Millennials are simply more likely than their predecessors to take whatever action necessary to live the life they desire.  In addition to the perception of poor treatment, an employee who is bored with his or her job is also likely to walk. More and more it's happening without so much as a day's notice. While this is a mindset that employers will have to grow accustomed to, the negative symptoms that result in employees abandoning their jobs would dictate that prevention is the best cure. 

Interview applicants on a two-way street.

Managers are accustomed to asking applicants questions to determine if they are a good fit. It's equally important to make sure that your company is a good fit for the applicant. Find out what's important to them. What are their top values and how can you and your company accommodate them? Ask them to tell you what their ideal day, week, or year at work looks like. It their vision something you can make a reality?

Make your team a top priority.

Small business owners are torn between obligations daily. When there's a fire to be put out, or an opportunity to complete an overdue task, employers often neglect their employees. Bad decision. The odds of an employee bailing on you shrink substantially when you make your team a top priority and create a healthy work environment. It begins with respecting and acknowledging their creativity, dedication, and hard work. 

  • If you hold regular meetings (productive ones anyway), never be a no-show or call it off at the last minute. If you don't hold regular meetings, ask yourself why.
  • Always make time to check in with your team; listen to their concerns and ideas. 
  • Reward those who go the extra mile. 
  • Provide excellent training and growth opportunities, both professional and personal. 
  • Offer a flexible work schedule. Employers are discovering that when their people are given the opportunity to work on their own terms, deadlines are met, performance excels, and the loyalty factor increases.
  • Share your analytics and other important data points. If you have an advertising or social media campaign running, review the results with your team. Celebrate the wins and open the floor to a discussion about ideas for improvement.
  • Have fun! Don't always be so serious, encourage laughter and enjoyment at work. Make your office an enjoyable place to come to each day. If you're virtual, build time into your meetings to raise the bar on happiness with some levity and getting to know you time. 

In other words, build your company culture with intention. Otherwise, it will build itself and you will not like the results. A happy employee will help you build the positive culture that you want your brand to be known for. 

Lastly, be prepared for the inevitable loss of employees.

Even at the best of companies, employees move on. If you have a well-developed culture you probably won't get ghosted, so that's a good thing. Still, small business owners tend to freak out when an employee leaves because they are not prepared to find and train a replacement. 

My clients find success with tasking the employee with the job of documentation. During a specific stretch of time, have employees create step-by-step instructions for routine tasks. They can even record their screen to create training tools. Over time, your processes and procedures will have a home of their own in the cloud, to be updated along the way and accessed for training.