Ghosting isn’t new, or unique, but employers will have to address it

After reading countless stories and op-eds in national platforms about the “job ghosting” phenomenon — and also after hearing some feedback from local residents — it seemed time to discuss it.

First, some discussion about how, and why, we got here, and the narratives attached to those questions.

It used to be job seekers had to worry about employers disappearing — or “ghosting” — during the hiring process; now it appears more often that job seekers are “ghosting” or walking away.

It seems there are two competing narratives making headlines most-frequently about this issue. They both water down the discussion about employment quality, work environment, and work-life balance. Folks either blame employees, mainly Millennials, for perpetuating this trend or employers for not treating employees fairly, or with the respect they deserve.

“Young people don’t want to work,” one person told me while discussing this subject about a month ago. This person had spent more than 25 years at one of the most-established employers in the region. From his perspective, he saw enough “young people” come and go that it made him believe young people were driving this problem. When I followed up, by asking what types of jobs these individuals had, they either held entry-level positions or were working through what’s known as a “temp service.”

In his defense, he wasn’t accusing anyone of being lazy, just noticing that those particular young people were oftentimes the ones who walked away. But we can’t have a discussion about “job ghosting” while accounting for these folks the same way we do those who leave ordinary positions. If employed by a temp service, or working an entry-level, perhaps part-time job, if the person feels that they have been treated in such a way that warrants or dictates them taking another opportunity as quickly as possible, that adds nuance.

Not a defense of those who “ghost” employers but something to consider when young people are trying to survive and get by like anyone else.

The flip side involves assigning blame to employers. Admittedly, that connects to the above mentioned nuance, but extending out beyond job type and title, it regularly finds a home nestled somewhere in the debate of wages. Another person, who has worked for another big player in the local employment landscape said it boils down to job description, and it’s evolution as companies downsize.

His explanation, paraphrased: As a company evolves and shifts in size, responsibilities are moved around. Sometimes that means one person or another might see increased responsibility even if not in the initial job description they received. Sometimes they don’t feel properly compensated. Sometimes it makes them feel like they have an advantage when it comes time for a promotion. And sometimes, it makes them feel like they’re more competitive in the marketplace.

He also said that it could be a combination of all three and under the right circumstances, “ghosting” may feel appropriate. But, that shouldn’t be an indictment of employer behavior. Private businesses are free to operate as they see fit so long as their actions are legal. Given New York’s status as an at-will employment state it creates a scenario for employers to walk away as easily as employees.

Do I believe these things are the reason for ghosting in the workplace? None of them singularly. Could they be contributing factors? They could. But, as far as this debate is concerned, the “ghosting” seems more fit to the highly-competitive job market, low unemployment, and lack of educated, trained, and “ready to work” prospects in the local economy.

Some people will ghost an employer because they feel slighted. Others will ghost in pursuit of a better opportunity. Combine that with the desperation that some employers are feeling to get anyone, especially high-quality candidates, in the door as quickly as possible, and it’s easy to see why ghosting has become a phenomenon. Consideration also has to be paid to the fact that more employees are seeking out an increased volume of non-traditional work. Meaning, piecing together a full-time income by working multiple part-time jobs, or freelancing, of which attachment and traditional employment formalities get tossed.

Modern employment is complicated, and even if you’re in a traditional environment, dealing with the challenges of a modern, non-traditional one — and its employees — is going to be a requirement.

This column was originally published in the Finger Lakes Times on Dec. 29, 2018.

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