Hiring & Recruiting

What is Employee or Applicant Ghosting?

In the dating world, the term “ghosting” refers to a situation in which someone you’re dating simply disappears without any communication—never to be heard from again. Like a ghost, they were there, and then gone without a trace and without explanation.

Source: Jurkos / iStock / Getty

This phenomenon is also something that can be seen in the employment world. For example, perhaps you’ve had an applicant who you’ve been in communication with and set up an interview, only for the person to be a no-show at the interview itself. Or perhaps you’ve gotten all the way to the point of making a job offer and having it accepted—only to have the individual not show up on their scheduled first day. Even employees who have been with the organization longer may end up disappearing without notice or communication. These examples are how the ghosting phenomenon happens in the workplace.

It’s particularly exasperating to employers who are working diligently to fill vacant roles. It takes a lot of time, effort, and money to prepare for a new hire, only for that person to not show up.

Let’s look at some of the reasons individuals may choose to disappear.

Why Might New Hires “Ghost” an Employer?

Here are a few of the reasons an applicant or new hire may opt to disappear:

  • They may have been unimpressed with the company or offer, but took it anyway and later changed their mind.
  • They may have gotten a better offer. Low unemployment rates mean individuals have a lot more choices lately and may not feel they have much to lose with burning a bridge.
  • The interviewee may not have been interested in the job in the first place. In this job market, more individuals are applying for jobs just to get a feel for what their options may be. They may never have had any intention of taking the job.
  • Social media has created a cultural shift in which we have fewer personal relationships. This changes how socially acceptable it may feel to simply walk away from a job or job offer.
  • Applicants may feel it’s fair to simply disappear because historically employers have done the same thing with the hiring process. Employers in general have been known to simply stop communicating when the employee is no longer in the running for a role. So now it may feel as though this is a fair way to act since the employers have done so before. Employers have also been guilty of implementing layoffs or reductions in force without much explanation or notice. All of this means there is less of a culture of loyalty to any organization, at any point in the process. (This employer perception is relevant even if your organization was never guilty of these issues.)
  • Many people are naturally conflict-averse. Explaining why you’re no longer interested, or why you’re quitting a job, is a potentially awkward or contentious conversation. While it doesn’t excuse it, the simple desire to avoid this conversation may be the entire reason someone ghosts an employer.

Is it unprofessional to simply disappear without communication? Many would say yes, of course. But with cultural perceptions shifting, those doing the ghosting may not even realize how it is perceived in the workplace. Some people feel it is justified or at least acceptable, since there is not yet a relationship in place.

Employers should be aware of this phenomenon and should consider what back up plans to have in place in case a promising recruit disappears. Keeping the recruiting process short could also help, as it may reduce the chance that someone will have another offer as an incentive to disappear.