With Halloween now upon us, attention is turning to the prospect of diminutive, visiting spirits looking for sweet treats… but what about the far spookier phenomenon of individuals vanishing without trace, never to be seen again? We are referring, of course, to the practice of ghosting, which is tightening its chilling grip on employers and employees alike.
In a survey of more than 1,300 full-time UK workers across a range of industries, professional education and training specialists The Knowledge Academy set out to discover how ghosting – or abruptly withdrawing contact from a specific individual or organisation with no notice or subsequent explanation – is affecting each side of the workplace bargain.
According to the findings, the sector currently experiencing the highest frequency of ghosting from applicants is business, finance and legal, with 26% of firms seeing once-interested job hunters – or even fully fledged members of staff – evaporate into the ether. That was followed by advertising, marketing, PR and media (23%), retail and hospitality (19%) and technical services (12%).
However, this issue cuts both ways: when the research flips around to the employee perspective, job hunters have experienced the greatest amount of ghosting from potential employers in the advertising, marketing, PR and media field – with a whopping 29% of them not hearing back from hiring managers just when they thought they were on the brink of landing a job. Next in line are business, finance and legal (21%), retail and hospitality (14%) and government (10%).
In a statement announcing the findings, The Knowledge Academy  included first-hand testimony from affected parties to demonstrate how the problem stings in equal measure those looking to source quality staff, and those looking for great jobs.
Alan Price, operations director at HR support firm Peninsula, said: “In 2018, we actually saw a 21% increase in calls to our advice line from employers regarding (prospective) employees ghosting. Ghosting can be highly inconvenient for employers and they should take steps to prevent it where possible. One option [to cover registered staff] is to maintain a clear policy that highlights company procedure surrounding absence without notification. Employees should also be encouraged to speak to their managers about any personal issues that might require them to take time off.”
On the other side, ex-pat Allisa Lindo, growth marketing manager at Swedish design-software provider Brandox, said: “My first interview after moving to Sweden went extremely well. After a productive interview with the CEO, as I left, he shook my hand and smiled broadly, saying ‘You’re going to be a great fit here. I look forward to working with you.’ I waited two days and sent a follow-up ‘thank you’ email but got no response. After three weeks, I discovered they’d hired someone else.
“Fast forward a year and I was working for a different company in the same area. A new woman started working there, and she mentioned she used to work for the company that ghosted me. Turns out she was the woman they’d hired, and from what she told me, it sounds like I dodged a bullet.”
Why is it important for leaders to make tackling ghosting a major priority?
The Institute of Leadership & Management’s head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “At its simplest level, ghosting strikes me as incredibly bad manners – no matter which side is doing it. At a broader level, though, there is so much anecdotal evidence of people applying for jobs and not hearing anything back at all, or being told, ‘If you haven’t heard from us in three weeks, assume you haven’t been successful,’ which isn’t very helpful for the individual concerned.
“When you get no reply at all, it’s just rude and impolite. And if you look at what job sites such as Glassdoor  are saying, it’s tarnishing the image of the organisation as an employer. Businesses must understand that, yes, they have reputations linked to their products and services – but they also have employer brands. And job hunters will be asking, ‘Does this company have the values with which I want to be associated? Does it behave ethically? Does it treat prospective employees well?’
Cooper notes: “The Lindo example certainly raises a red flag as far as ghosting is concerned. But we also mustn’t forget the surge of media interest earlier this year that engulfed job applicant Olivia Bland, who came up against an interviewing style that she considered unnecessarily aggressive, and even humiliating. If you’re treated badly at that stage, it gives you a real insight into the culture of the organisation. There’s a good chance that those practices, or that sort of disrespect, will pervade every aspect of that firm. So it would seem to me that poor practices on the part of recruiters are impacting upon the behaviour of applicants, making them think that it’s okay to be unresponsive or self-centred.”
Cooper adds: “We must also bear in mind that companies have a problem with ghosting or freezing out former employees. Coaching and mentoring experts highlight the importance of recognising the contribution of those who have gone before. If people leave organisations abruptly and become unspoken about, they’re not being honoured. That leaves a gap, and a lingering sense of disquiet, among those who remain, which can be very unsettling. So the people who are left behind have this feeling of, ‘It could be me next,’ or ‘How come I’m still here when that person has gone?’ Again, that sort of conduct shows a real disrespect for the people who are working for you. And of course, disrespect can be emulated or reciprocated.”
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