A portrait of a brutal US hiring scene has emerged from recent articles at the Washington Post  and Wall Street Journal  – each of which highlights the vexing problem of employees and job candidates ‘ghosting’ their employers and recruitment firms.
The Post article takes its cue from a 5 December report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis,  which explores a host of economic trends, including key developments in the jobs market. It notes: “As they have for some time, [respondents] indicated that the labour market was tight and that they had difficulty filling positions at all skill levels. A number of contacts said that they had been ‘ghosted,’ a situation in which a worker stops coming to work without notice and then is impossible to contact.”
As the Post article explains: “National data on economic ‘ghosting’ is lacking. The term, which usually applies to dating, first surfaced in 2016 on Dictionary.com.  But companies across the country say silent exits are on the rise.” It adds: “Recruiters at global staffing firm Robert Half have noticed a ‘10% to 20% increase’ in ghosting over the past year, DC district president Josh Howarth said. Applicants blow off interviews. New hires turn into no-shows. Workers leave one evening and never return.”
Quoted in the piece, Howarth says: “You feel like someone has a high level of interest only for them to just disappear.”
The WSJ piece also highlights the challenge that ghosting has presented to recruiters, who are having to deal with abrupt phone-interview cancellations with only minutes to go before they are due to take place – plus successful candidates filling out reams of HR paperwork for the vacancies they are meant to fill, only to not turn up on their agreed start dates. According to the article, the trend is costing individual recruiters thousands of dollars in lost commissions.
What has given rise to this work-based form of ghosting – and what can leaders do to tackle the problem?
The Institute of Leadership & Management head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “First of all, we have to examine the ethical codes of these people who think that it’s okay not to turn up to jobs that they’d promised to take. Yes, given the widely publicised skills shortages, it’s a buyer’s market. But does that really give people an excuse to behave badly?”
She points out: “While ghosting raises major questions over those who perpetrate it, it also presents organisations with a challenge: how do you test people for their ethical mores to ensure that potentially problematic candidates won’t have a chance to let you down? I’m sure that occupational psychologists are on the case – because, to me, ghosting indicates a very flawed moral perspective.”
The second part of this issue, Cooper says, is: “Why would some of these people not think that they’re morally flawed? Is it that they feel entitled to behave like this because of the ways in which they, and their peers, have been treated by organisations in the past? For example, have they faced huge delays after filing job applications before hearing about whether or not they are in the running? Have they simply had no response at all, or no feedback in the wake of interviews? We know that there are a lot of poor practices around recruitment, for which organisations must take some measure of responsibility.”
However, she notes: “The bigger problem is that if these skills shortages genuinely exist, what are organisations doing to ensure that they can mitigate the problem? Is it not the responsibility of the state and the university sector to provide well-trained graduates who can fill these gaps, so that the cost of that training and development is borne by the taxpayer and the individuals concerned? Or is it that organisations themselves must invest so much more in training and development, so that they’re growing their own talent? This could be one of the greatest leadership challenges of our time.”
Cooper explains: “In late 2017, the government published a comprehensive review of the UK’s Industry Training Boards (ITBs)  – organisations tasked specifically with updating employees’ skills. The review explained that ITBs were established under the Industrial Training Act of 1964, with each one funded through a levy on firms in its particular sector. In the few years following the Act, 27 ITBs were set up, covering the majority of business sectors and some 15 million workers. Most of them lasted right up to the late 1980s – but after that, there was a pronounced decline, leaving just two – the Construction and Engineering Construction ITBs – to survive up to the present day.”
She adds: “It may well be that ITBs declined because they were too bureaucratic and slow moving amid an ever more dynamic business environment. But under the current circumstances, where we no longer have special bodies dedicated to the upkeep of industry-specific training, it is easy to see why one individual, one employer, one university – and perhaps even one country – doesn’t have the answers to this problem.
“If we want to avoid a situation where we continue to have vacancies for people who don’t have the skills to fill them, then business leaders, academics and government officials must work together to create the required initiatives.”
For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on understanding HR