“Ghosting” – the practice of ignoring a potential partner after speaking to or going on a date with them – was one of 2018’s biggest buzzwords, and thought to be a trend confined to the world of dating.
But, much to the horror of companies around the world, it is becoming increasingly common in the workplace. Employees are simply leaving and never coming back, with no formal resignation or explanation given.
Likewise prospective job candidates are agreeing to interviews but not showing up, while successful applicants are failing to turn up for their first day of work.
The disappearance of millennial workers is so widespread that the Federal Reserve’s latest Beige Book – a snapshot of the US economy – made reference to it, stating that it had been told by “a number of [employers]… they had been ‘ghosted’, a situation in which a worker stops coming to work without notice and then is impossible to contact”.
It’s a problem in Britain, too. A survey of 1,200 UK professionals by jobs website CV-Library found that one in 10 workers had ditched an interview at the last minute, with the figure rising to 17.7pc among millennials, while 10pc of existing employees had also ghosted their employer.
A separate survey from LinkedIn, of more than 600 recruiters in Britain, found that almost half had seen an increase in ghosting since the beginning of 2018.
Employment is at a record high and the tight labour market means businesses are having to battle it out to attract skilled staff and retain existing workers.
Job seekers are becoming wise to the fact that they can use multiple job offers as leverage for getting a bumper salary. Existing employees, too, are realising that it’s easier than ever to find work, and that walking out the door is preferable to awkward conversations and the possibility of having to complete a notice period.
James Stewart of KPMG says: “Many of the UK’s main sectors are now struggling to hire staff. It really is a candidates’ market at the moment. Companies are having to offer increasingly attractive and creative packages to tempt new talent on board.”
Technology has also changed the way young people communicate, with social media and messaging apps diminishing the amount of face-to-face contact people have and normalising the behaviour of cutting off contact with someone without explanation or justification.
What can an employer do about it?
“In most cases, very little,” says Jane Amphlett, head of employment at law firm Howard Kennedy. “Employers are not required to pay an employee for unauthorised absence and, having made reasonable efforts to contact the employee, will usually be able to terminate their employment.
“However, although the employee will technically be in breach of contract, there is usually little point in the employer pursuing them unless the employee has failed to return valuable company property or documents or breaches post-termination restrictions. In those cases, the employer may need to consider initiating legal proceedings to recover its property or protect its business, but this can be costly.”
She adds that, while ghosting is perceived to be a millennial trend, it is not limited to younger employees and is sometimes caused by a personal crisis – alcohol or substance abuse, illness, housing issues or family problems – or because they are experiencing bullying at work.
Alan Price, an employment law expert at Peninsula, says that while unauthorised absence without good cause is a disciplinary offence, employers should wait to hear if the employee has any explanation before taking formal action.
“A fair procedure would be required in order to fairly dismiss the employee so this should be borne in mind. Employees can still make a claim for unfair dismissal based on the grounds that the procedure wasn’t correct regardless of a real, valid reason for dismissal.”
Price says Peninsula received a 21pc increase in calls to its advice line last year from employers regarding employees leaving a job with zero notice instead of formally quitting and new starters never turning up for the first day.
Martin Talbot, director of jobs site TotalJobs, says that while employers who don’t hear back from candidates during the recruitment process may feel aggrieved, “they must remember that this experience is more commonly faced by job-seekers during the process”.
“With this in mind, it’s important for businesses to always share feedback following an interview and acknowledge all job applications with a confirmation email, regardless of the position or level of seniority being recruited for.”
‘Young people treat everything like Tinder and don’t commit’
Larry Kotch runs marketing agency Brainbroker.net, which employs around 25 people across the UK and Bulgaria.
Kotch says the decision to expand into Bulgaria followed a period in which two potential British workers ghosted the company after signing contracts by not turning up on their first day.
“I think it is because of the choice young people have today due to mobile phones and the internet. Effectively they treat everything like [dating app] Tinder, weighing up different options and semi-committing to meeting up with everyone and then just turning up at the 11th hour whenever they’ve made a decision,” he says.
“It’s how a lot of young people communicate today, people don’t make promises anymore or if they do, they are waiting for other offers and always hopeful a better deal is going to come along.”
“Most of the time we were able to continue with a skeleton staff, but there were some events which had 15,000 or more people attending, and it was crucial to have a certain number of workers.”
She describes one occasion when a staff member ghosted the company, leaving it out of pocket. “As part of a contract to rent out an event space we also paid them to provide a member of staff, so when they didn’t show it meant we were down a worker and a day’s salary,” she says.
Emma Bullen, of human resources company MHR, says ghosting results in “wasted money and time invested in the recruitment process”, and leaves businesses confronted with heavy workloads and no one to do it.
She believes the trend of ghosting will become more commonplace in recruiting. “Ghosting is now part and parcel of the recruitment process and organisations need to be aware of it. [It is] a by-product of the digital world we live in today. People are so used to faceless contact and acting anonymously online that they assume it is acceptable behaviour.”
Article originally published by Sophie Christie on 11 JANUARY 2019 • 7:24AM