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Trends | Professional Ghosting

a semitransparent photo of a person behind an opaque wall

You may think that "ghosting" is a term for personal relationships, a behavior that happens specifically when one party is not interested in pursuing a connection or relationship. All attempts at engagement are ignored, especially in the social media sphere. And what is eery about being "ghosted", is that is often happens without conversation or communication.

Today, ghosting is as prevalent in the professional domain as the personal domain. In 2021, the online hiring service Indeed reported that 77% of applicants applying for a job were ghosted by the hiring entity (no contact after applying or interviewing) compared to 28% of job applicants ghosting an interview or a new job prospect. In fact 25% of employers reported they have had new hires not show up for the job they were offered. Both sides of the hiring relationship have seen rapid increases in the behavior with 57% of all interviewed saying that the behavior is more common than ever before.

A Badge of Honor: Busyness Culture

Ghosting is also rapidly becoming normalized outside of the hiring function. The top reasons professional give when asked why they did not respond or "ghosted" colleagues, supervisors, authority, or customers can be summed up in one word -- "busy." Busyness culture is an excuse for almost any behavior that would normally be considered unacceptable. It is as if busy is a "free pass" or "get out of jail free" card. There is an assumption that ghosting because of being "busy" isn't personal and therefore accceptable. The reality is that what ghosting really says is that whatever the person was doing was far more important than you. And it was so important that it didn't require any acknowledgement to the ghostee, nor did it warrant an apology. Or as ghostees report, they become so insignificant that common courtesy isn't required.

The company Visier did an enlightening infographic on ghosting based on title, gender, and reasons given. The C-suite are the biggest offenders with 90+% reporting that it is a regular behavior. As they say about culture, what happens at the top is what you should expect throughout the organization.

Why People Ghost

Psychology Today reported that the reason professional people ghost is varied, but it comes down to a few behavioural categories:

  • Convenience - it's easier to ignore than be thoughtful/honest

  • Conflict Avoidance - there is some sort of discomfort to engage

  • Apathy - I simply don't care or have no power

  • Low Accountability - there are no repercussions for the behavior

  • Data Overload - too much information served by to many digital modalities

The Impact of Ghosting (Hint: It's part of the problem not the solution)

Ghosting is psychological warfare at its worst, and lazy, unprofessional behavior at its best. It creates cultures where honest, empathetic communication is simply not possible or expected. And even though ghosting may be a power action equally available to anyone in a work culture, at its core it slows productivity, diminishes collaboration and disengages employees, customers, and ignores human emotions. No one likes to be ignored, forgotten, or marginalized.

Ghosters Beware: New Areas of Inquiry for References, Reviews, and Reporting

hand with pen checking boxes on a form

Both employers and employees are beginning to weave probing questions into their decision making. Employers are asking pointed questions in both the interview and when checking references. Whether they use the word "ghosting" or probe into areas of responsive communication, accountability, and being people-centered, they are looking for patterns of behavior.

Employees are doing their part by posting reviews on employer behavior on sites like Glassdoor, Indeed, and social media albeit often anonomously. They are also incorporating it into their interview strategies. No one wants to work for a company that makes them insignificant and marginalized.

Customers are also taking action. They are taking to posting reviews when their issues or complaints are ignored by customer service and/or leaders of the business. They know that public expectations are on the acknowledgement and remedy side. Calling out silence is often the only way their issue gets elevated.

Three Ways to Buck the Trend

  1. Make a promise to take 1 minute to acknowledge communications even if you are busy. Set up automated replies that may not be personal, but acknowledge when and how you will reply and what the other person can do if they don't hear from you. With AI and integrated apps, this should be the minimum. A professional's job is to have systems that put people first.

  2. Be honest. Don't make promises you don't intend to keep or say things to avoid invoking conflict. If a job isn't for you, say so. If you're a "busy executive" let the person know where in your priority list they fall and/or delegate someone else to engage with them authentically if it isn't possible for you to do so personally.

  3. Set expectations. Have a code of conduct for yourself, for your team and if you are in leadership -- your company. Think of it as a dinner party: How do we RSVP or respond to each other? What is acceptable etiquette? What restrictions/allergies do you have and what behavior will get you in hot water? How do we remain accountable so we can focus on the good stuff?

Break the Tape Leadership helps leaders unleash creativity and potential in themselves and the organizations they lead to generate meaningful momentum. (And we find creative ways to transform a ghosting culture into a hosting culture.)


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