Ghosting: Job candidates turn tables on employers


In the February 5, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader asks about the consequences of ghosting.

Question

It just happened at work. Someone “ghosted” their job! A man in his 20s just disappeared without saying goodbye or I quit. For those of us who’ve been in the workforce longer, this is amazing behavior. Don’t these people think the consequences will come back to haunt them? Why do employers put up with this? Looking forward to your comments.

Nick’s Reply

This trend doesn’t surprise me at all. Several generations of workers have now experienced ghosting — the kind that employers practice on employees, job applicants, and new hires. I think what you’re seeing is the outcome of employers’ widespread demonstrations of disrespect — they’re getting ghosted in return.

Ghosting the employee

Employees and job seekers are not just fed up; they have reset the table and are serving the dog food employers made them eat. Why bother giving notice, when the last time you resigned (or got fired) an HR manager ordered a security guard to escort you — and all your co-workers saw was the ghost of their former co-worker flying out the door? (See Quit, Fired, Downsized: Leave on your own terms.)

Of course, there are people who thoughtlessly and rudely “disappear,” as you’ve noted. But I think in most cases it’s a conscious decision to dispense with niceties like resignations because, well, why bother when your employer has been treating you like a replaceable part?

Ghosting the recruit

It also happens during the recruiting process. A recruiter in the HR department (or an independent headhunter representing the employer) solicits you, asks for your resume and references, has you fill out pages of online application forms, insists on knowing your current salary, and requires you to sign waivers so they can conduct a background check — all before they ever interview you.

You comply because you really, really want this job. Two weeks later, after you send e-mails and leave voicemails asking what’s up, you realize that the employer that solicited, recruited and pursued you has disappeared. You’ve been ghosted.

Ghosting the new hire

Worse are the many stories of job-offer ghosting that have become all too common in my mailbox. An employer makes a job offer, sometimes verbally and sometimes in writing. The candidate accepts, agrees to a start date, quits their old job and gives notice, and in some cases travels and relocates across the country. A day or two before the job is to commence, the offer is withdrawn with no explanation, apology or compensation.

One reader recounted that her husband moved a thousand miles several days before his new job was to start, to find housing. Meanwhile, she cancelled their rental agreement, took their children out of school, packed the family’s belongings, and started the long drive to join him. Halfway along the trip, the new hire called his wife to say the employer cancelled the job and rescinded the offer without any reason given.

How do you think that experience will affect that “new hire” when he gets his next job? (See Job offer rescinded after I quit my old job.)

Ghosted after trusting HR

In another case, an HR manager issued a job offer. The candidate accepted and HR instructed him to give notice at the old job immediately. He did. Several days later, the written offer still had not arrived. HR finally returned his many calls and said the background check turned up a problem — but would not disclose what it was. There would be no offer letter. Chalk this disaster up to the candidate’s naive trust in a verbal offer, but blame the HR manager for telling him everything was “a go” and to resign his old job.

(See Get it in writing.)

Turning the tables

Is it any wonder that, when the labor market is tight, workers turn the tables? I’m not saying any of this behavior is appropriate — but the reason more workers are ghosting employers is completely clear. Things have changed.

Perhaps the employer who rescinded an offer didn’t intend disrespect. HR was just very busy processing an offer to a better candidate that came along. The employer that ushered the fired employee out the door was just protecting its interests — it’s nothing personal. But as you note, these changes in the standard of conduct have consequences — but for whom? It depends on the economy.

What are the consequences in today’s economy? I don’t think they are significant for most workers unless the person tries to get a job back at their old company. Today, it seems employers are the ones facing the consequences of treating job applicants and employees with disrespect.

Of course, not all employers have been guilty any more than all workers are. And I’m not suggesting you should ghost anyone, whether you’re an employer, an employee, or a job seeker. It’s a lousy thing to do — and, yes, in some quarters it can affect your reputation. But you’re noticing a trend because there is a trend. Where does it end? Perhaps when workers demand better treatment — and when key jobs remain vacant because no one wants to work for employers that don’t respect them.

Special note to managers: Those recruiters in your HR department, and those third-party headhunters who operate at arm’s length but nonetheless represent your company — you’d better pay attention to how they treat job applicants. Their behavior will come back to haunt you.

Your turn, folks! Have you ghosted or been ghosted? How? Why? More important, how do we change the standard of conduct to improve relations between employers and workers?

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