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ghosting (in the workplace)

Ghosting is to cease communications without notification. The use of the word "ghost" as a verb originated in social media in reference to dating, but the term is now used by employers to describe employees and potential employees who suddenly disappear. 

Typically, ghosting is used to describe:

  • Job candidates who suddenly stop responding to messages.
  • New hires who fail to show up for their first day of work.
  • Employees who do not show up for a shift.
  • Employees who leave work in the middle of the day and never come back.

Some analysts blame ghosting on millennial entitlement. Their reasoning is that members of the millennial generation have been brought up to feel they are special -- so special, in fact, that they do not need to follow conventional rules of behavior.

Other analysts, however, maintain that ghosting behavior stems from changes in the job market and the phenomenon is simply a reflection of the laws of supply and demand in a healthy job market.  In this context, the reasoning is that because there are more positions to be filled than there are viable candidates, potential employees feel comfortable ignoring recruiters and HR managers because they know there are plenty of other opportunities out there.

Ultimately, however, ghosting demonstrates a lack of respect and in the workplace, the practice is likely to be perceived as a sign of unprofessionalism and immaturity. Instead of disappearing to avoid a potentially negative conversation, it's important that job candidates and employees learn the necessary soft skills to say "no" gracefully and keep communication channels open.

How to prevent ghosting and how to respond to being ghosted

It's easy for a human resource manager to be frustrated by job candidates who ghost, but it's equally frustrating for candidates who hear nothing back after an interview. To keep the communication lines open on both sides, it's important for HR departments to do the following: 

  • Have a communication plan in place to inform job candidates about what to expect in the hiring process. 
  • Create a strong onboarding process that begins as soon as a candidate accepts the job.
  • Make time to personally introduce new employees to coworkers. While sending around a welcome email is helpful, it cannot replace face time. 
  • Provide the new employee with a mentor or contact person with institutional knowledge. 
  • Follow the 70-20-10 rule and verify what training the new employee will need immediately. If possible, postpone training opportunities that can wait until the new employee has some experience and can put the training in context. 
  • Create a feedback loop that will inform new employees about their performance on a continual basis. 

Forcing the offender to respond to communications, post-ghosting, is sometimes referred to as the controversial practice ghostbusting.  Although ghostbusting can be emotionally gratifying to the person who has been ghosted, its effectiveness is not always reliable. Experts recommend that if a potential hire ghosts an organization's HR department, it's better to move on and interview someone else. 

Other new terms inspired by ghosting

Interacting on social media -- liking Facebook posts, for example – without resuming direct communication after ghosting someone is sometimes called haunting. Actually resuming communication with someone after you’ve ghosted them is sometimes referred as zombieing, as the “ghost” returns from the dead. In a human resources context, that might be when someone who failed to show up for their first day of work reapplies to the same company a few months later.

There’s also a term for the more responsible protocol for ending a relationship: If you nicely explain why you will not be continuing communications and terminate politely, it’s called Caspering. That behavior, which was long the standard, is named for “Casper, the Friendly Ghost,” the title character in a cartoon series of the last century.

This was last updated in December 2019

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