Say Anything: Why Prospective Employees Are Ghosting Prospective Employers

Low unemployment, worker shortages, and normalized bad behavior has given rise to a new trend.

 
 

Ghosting, the practice of ending a relationship suddenly and without explanation, is not a new concept. Sure, it was millennials who gave the practice the flippant moniker, but people have been doing this forever.

In the past, ghosting was relegated to the domain of personal and romantic relationships. With the rise of social media and dating apps, it’s never been easier to retain anonymity while simultaneously behaving poorly with little social repercussion. According to recent estimates, some 50% of men and women have experienced ghosting.

Increasingly, however, ghosting is haunting the workplace. But why?

 

 

Unemployment, for starters. The U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 3.8% in May 2018. That’s the lowest it’s been since April 2000, which was also the last year, before 2018, that unemployment rates were below 4% for consecutive months. More open jobs exist today than there are unemployed workers. This is the first time that’s happened since the Labor Department began keeping record in 2000.

10-Year U.S. Unemployment Rate

DATA AS OF MAY 2018
Bureau of Labor Statistics
Month Unemployment Rate
May 2008 5.4%
May 2009 9.4%
May 2010 9.6%
May 2011 9.0%
May 2012 8.2%
May 2013 7.5%
May 2014 6.3%
May 2015 5.5%
May 2016 4.7%
May 2017 4.3%
May 2018 3.8%
 

Piggybacking on unemployment, U.S. companies are facing a historic labor shortage. The rate of professionals quitting their jobs hit a record level in March, and among those who quit, two-thirds do so voluntarily. Companies have become so desperate for bodies that corporate America is recruiting teenagers (so much for flipping burgers) and cities with unfilled jobs are offering cash, student-debt relief, and home purchase assistance to lure potential employees.

In short, employees today have more leverage to get what they want and no shortage of opportunities to change employers.

With this newfound power, employers are setting job interviews with candidates who never show up. And, worse, some prospective employees accept positions and never show up for their first day.

That puts employers in a bad spot. However, it’s not an unfamiliar predicament. Job seekers from the past decade have plenty of stories of interviewing at a company and never hearing from them again.

Today’s ghosting employees are just flipping the script. They’re saying “no” in a way that society and employers have reinforced and desensitized — by saying nothing at all.

People who ghost are primarily focused on avoiding their own emotional discomfort, according to Psychology Today, not how it makes another person — whether a date or hiring manager — feel. Ghosting as a behavior might be unavoidable, but employers do have a few ways to reduce the chances it happens to them. Some are offering more competitive and creative employee packages — things like working 30 hours and getting paid for 40 or free employee cell phones — to entice employees to make that commitment.

As unprofessional as ghosting is, the behavior exemplifies a larger truth in the recruiting and hiring processes: The balance of power has begun to shift. Qualified applicants are, for the first time in nearly a generation, able to yield the most powerful word in negotiation: “No.”

In today’s competitive employee market, the onus has fallen to the employer to get the applicant to say, “yes.”

Or, at least, to say anything.

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