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What is employee ghosting?

“Employee ghosting” happens when an employee stops showing up at work without giving any notice, and in the process often eludes their employer’s attempts to reach them. ‘Ghosting’ is a term borrowed from online dating; for instance, when someone disappears suddenly without informing their dating partner.

“Candidate ghosting” or “applicant ghosting” is a similar term for job candidates who unexpectedly miss their screening calls or interviews with hiring teams. The phrase might also indicate that the company ghosts candidates by not keeping them informed about the status of their application.

The phrase “employee ghosting” shouldn’t be confused with “ghost employees” - these are employees who exist on a company’s payroll, but don’t actually work at that company. Having ghost employees is a type of accounting fraud.

Why does employee ghosting happen?

In the U.S., wherever “at-will” employment applies, neither party has to give notice when they want to severe the employment relationship. So in these cases, there are no repercussions for an employee who wants to quit without giving notice.

There are many reasons – some complex – why that employee would not inform their company ahead of time. Here are a few possible explanations:

  • Employees lack professionalism. Contrary to what you’d like to think, it does happen.
  • Employees feel uncomfortable or even unsafe about discussing their resignation. This is especially if their manager reacted badly or even threateningly to past hints of quitting. In this case, an employee will probably find it easier to just leave without saying anything.
  • Employees don’t have a good understanding of the difficulty or cost of hiring someone to replace them. So, they might not think it’s necessary for them to give you any notice or warning, especially since you, as an employer, have the right to do the same (in the U.S., at least).
  • Employees don’t want to be guilted into staying for longer. For example, if an employee has accepted another job offer and wants to start work there soon, they wouldn’t want their manager to coax them into staying until their replacement is found. Instead, they prefer to avoid the discussion with their manager altogether.
  • Employees are angry or dissatisfied. There’s the possibility that an employee ghosted their employer because they were not happy with something that happened at work or the way their employer handled that situation afterwards.

Of course, this list isn’t complete – there are many more reasons for employee ghosting at work. And for candidates, reasons will be different too.

What can you do about this?

Probably not much - at least not directly. What you can do is establish a good work environment where employees can feel safe and free to discuss anything. Be as transparent as possible to encourage employees to give you the same courtesy. Build a culture based on an open door policy and respect your employees so they’ll respond in kind when they decide to leave. Of course, you can also take actions to improve retention so that fewer employees will think of quitting in the first place.

Want more definitions? See our complete library of HR Terms.

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