Employee Ghosting: What to Do When the Line Goes Dead

Employee Ghosting: What to Do When the Line Goes Dead

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In today’s uncertain hiring market, employee ghosting is a growing topic of concern.

Washington-based research firm Clutch found that 71% of workers admit to ghosting during the interview process, while USA Today reports 20%-50% of job applicants and employees pull professional no-shows in some form.

Let’s take a minute to break down a few types of employee ghosting, what they mean, and what you can do to prevent them.

What is employee ghosting?

Originally an online dating term, “ghosting” means to disappear from a relationship without warning and cut off all communication.

In the professional realm, employee ghosting is when a person suddenly stops coming to work (or fails to appear for an interview or other commitment) and drops out of contact with their employer.

Here are some times your organization may experience employee ghosting:

Ghosting during the hiring process

You schedule an interview with a promising job candidate and they fail to appear. Or, they bail on the second or third stages of a multi-part interview process without notice or explanation.

What it means: Ghosting during the hiring process generally signals the applicant is no longer on the job market:  they received and accepted a job offer elsewhere without telling you.

What you can do: This form of ghosting is one of the most painful for recruiters, but your organization can take steps to prevent it.

Given millennials’ reported aversion to phone calls, you may increase your chances of success by maintaining open communication on multiple channels, including email or even texts.

In your conversations, express excitement about the new recruit but also let them know it’s okay if they have clarifying questions or can’t accept your offer. Less-experienced candidates may ghost if they feel too much pressure and want to avoid letting you down.


Ghosting on the first day of work

An applicant has successfully interviewed and accepted your offer, and all indications are this new hire is a go. But then the first day of work rolls around their manager reports they’re a no-show, and when you try to contact them, you get radio silence.

What it means: According to Clutch’s survey, 30% of first-day ghosting is due to the new employee finding another job, and 19% is due to the employee determining your company isn’t a good match for them personally.

What you can do: Work with your hiring managers to make sure they’re open and transparent about expectations, benefits, and potential challenges during the interview and onboarding process.

If a new hire accepts your offer but then determines the job or culture isn’t what they were promised (from sources like Glassdoor or from welcome materials you send), they may start to experience grave doubts.

Like with the interview process, bolster this transparency and excitement with active welcoming communication along a number of channels, including phone and email, in the days leading up to the new hire’s start date.

Ghosting during first 90 days

You’ve successfully onboarded your new hire and they’re starting to integrate nicely into the company. Then, without warning, they vanish.

What it means: The first 90 days on a job are critical for new hires. They’ve moved from a hypothetical space to the day-to-day reality of working for your organization. And sometimes, it’s just not a good fit.

Ideally, your employee would feel comfortable sharing their misgivings with their manager, rather than just pulling the plug. If they don’t, they may choose to disappear rather than endure the painful awkwardness of the conversation. This may indicate their own fear of letting others down, but may also signal your employee didn’t feel psychologically safe speaking up in your workplace or to their manager.

What you can do: Be sure to schedule a 1-on-1 with the employee in their first 30 days to assess how they’re settling in. As follow up, work with your new hire’s manager to track their performance over the first 90 days. If you spot signs of trouble, proactively address them.

Most importantly, don’t forget the valuable role you play as a human resource leader in creating a fearless feedback culture that encourages open dialogue. Obviously, you never want a great new hire to leave, but if they’re heading toward the door anyway, make sure you’ve built a culture where they feel comfortable giving notice without fear of retribution.

Ghosting during the offboarding process

An employee quits without warning, or puts in their two weeks’ notice but simply quits coming to work instead of finishing their tenure.

What it means: Employees who ghost during the offboarding process seem like they’re choosing to burn a bridge. They’re leaving with the understanding they won’t be able to use you as a professional reference going forward. This can serve as a flag for issues in a number of areas:

  • Organizational trust: The employee feels mistreated.
  • Managerial trust: The employee doesn’t trust their manager or leadership to represent them positively as a reference.
  • Personal engagement: The employee doesn’t feel proud of their work.

What you can do: Besides creating a top-notch employee experience and keeping ahead of workplace pain points with employee stay surveys and employee engagement surveys, one of the most targeted ways to eliminate this form of ghosting is to be conscientious about your company’s firing and off-boarding practices.

When your organization honors employee notice (rather than saying, “Never mind the two weeks; don’t bother coming back tomorrow, you’re out!”) and treats departing people with kindness and grace, their co-workers take note, and are likely to reward you in kind when they plan their own exits.

How to prevent employee ghosting

Though there’s a wide variety of reasons for employee ghosting, it’s largely a learned behavior. Past employers’ bad business practices may have taught them that ghosting is part of business as usual.

So be the change. In your hiring and firing practices, take care not to ghost applicants yourself, and to maintain clear, courteous channels of communication. Work hard to promote a feedback culture within your organization that encourages fearless, open dialogue, so employees on their way feel comfortable giving you an honest heads-up.

Ready to banish the ghosts? We can help.