All seemed to be going well with Randolph Rice’s new receptionist. She asked for more responsibilities and got them and said she was happy.
Then, two months into the job at Rice’s law office, she didn’t show up for work or call in sick. Rice tried to reach her, but got no response. He’d been ghosted: The receptionist ended the work relationship in much the same way many people end romantic associations, without a text, email or call.
“Phones and the internet have created less of a bond between individuals,” says Rice, who practices in Baltimore. “Connections are so easy to cut off, so, why not do it for a job?”
While most people do give notice if they intend to leave, ghosting is becoming more common. Small business owners and human resources professionals say it happens with staffers of any age and tenure, but is more likely among younger employees whose dependence on texts and chats can make them less experienced with tough conversations. Many deal with uncomfortable situations by just cutting off communication.
Human resources professionals recommend that rather than dismiss ghosting as the result of bad manners or awkwardness, owners improve communication and deal with any problems that made workers quit. Rice did some soul-searching to see if he had missed any clues. He discovered that the extra work his receptionist asked for was never completed. He also saw on social media that she had a new job as a server in a bar. He believes she was unhappy despite what she said, but he’s still mystified. “Maybe she woke up one day and said, ‘I’m done,’” he says.
The ghosting cases follow a trend toward no-shows at job interviews that began when companies resumed hiring after the Great Recession. Jodi Chavez, president of the recruiting firm Randstad Professionals, says some candidates felt that hiring managers were cavalier during the recession, not responding to resume submissions, emails and calls. They’re now acting the same way.
And that recession-era approach is still a factor, says Pete Davis, president of recruiter Impact Management Services. “Employers still have the attitude, or are behaving like they do, that people should be lucky to have a paycheque,” Davis says. He suggests owners give younger staffers the work environment they seek — one that appreciates them, their work and their needs — or expect more to quit and more to ghost.
The low unemployment rate and big demand for help makes staffers feel more empowered to just leave, Chavez says. “There’s an abundance of job openings. They have more choices,” she says.
Ghosting may also result from the disparity between the way bosses and staffers communicate, Chavez says. Owners or managers may prefer to talk while staffers are more comfortable with texting and online chats. She suggests owners help younger staffers see that learning to communicate face-to-face will help them build skills that they’ll need.
“They should have regular conversations with employees so they feel comfortable with the relationship and so they’re not as tempted to ghost,” she says.
Josh Rubin realized he needed to improve communication with his marketing firm’s staffers when an employee who worked for him for about a year didn’t show up one day, didn’t call and never came back. She didn’t even respond when he emailed to say he needed to send a final paycheque to her.
Rubin, owner of Post Modern Marketing in Sacramento, California, asked other staffers if they knew of any problems. And they did: A client had been abusive to the employee. Rubin realized she wanted to avoid confrontation and found it easier to leave without a word.
Since then, Rubin says he’s tried to be more approachable and encourages staffers to speak up when there’s a problem.
Bret Bonnet was ghosted on what would have been an employee’s first day of work, just hours after the would-be staffer texted him, “See you tomorrow, boss man!”
The man had already done all the paperwork for a $90,000 job at Quality Logo Products, a Chicago company that makes water bottles, pens and other promotional products. He’d even spent time on Skype to help the company set up a new laptop for him.
But on that day, there was no staffer and no answers to calls, texts or Facebook messages.
“To this day we have never heard from him. I’m not sure why anyone would invest so much of their own time/effort only to ghost us at the last minute,” Bonnet says.
Ghostings may involve complex emotions. Roy Cohen, a career coach in New York, has clients who felt a sense of failure or shame about their work they couldn’t share with bosses. They then ghosted. One was angry and wanted to get revenge by ghosting. Cohen has warned them not to ghost again.
“It will catch up with them,” he says.
Sometimes there are warning signs, like work that isn’t completed or falls short. Chris Yoko recalls a staffer at his website design company who telecommuted, missed a deadline and turned in incomplete work a few days later. When Yoko and his project manager tried to reach the employee, there was radio silence — with a strange twist.
The man “went so far as to have a friend call us and say he had died and ask for tax documents to be sent to an updated address,” says Yoko, owner of McLean, Virginia-based Yoko Inc.
Yoko wanted to send flowers, searched for an online obituary and found none. He did find that the former staffer had posted on Twitter that day.
The ex-staffer finally emailed a few weeks later and said, “Sorry, I had to move.” Yoko responded, hoping for answers. “I asked, ‘Why did all of this unfold this way? Did you feel this was the only way to handle it?’ But as you can imagine, I never heard back.”