With a title like that, you’d think this would be an article better suited for Halloween. Rest assured, we won’t be talking about ghosts, apparitions, or other haunted spirits. What we will explore is the concept of “ghosting”. Ghosting as a term first gained prominence in the dating world in which one party suddenly breaks off all contact with someone – no texts, emails, social media, or contact whatsoever.
When we were kids, we might have called this the “silent treatment”. but it’s a bit more draconian than that. Even when you’re being ignored, you oftentimes know the other person is there – sometimes literally in front of you ignoring you. With ghosting, someone simply vanishes without a trace – digital or otherwise. Most cell phones and digital media platforms have the ability to let you block someone, which further reinforces the ghosting action.
As the job market began to heat up after COVID, many employers began to deal with ghosting in the workplace. Ghosting first entered the workplace when job applicants simply decided to not show up for interviews. One of my clients confided in me that 50% of their job applicants never show up for the interview! Whether it was a change of heart or the pursuit of a better offer, some job seekers deem it acceptable to ghost potential employers with no warning. Common courtesy traditionally inspired someone to cancel an appointment or interview if needed, but that’s not the case with ghosting.
Many people who do the ghosting do not feel like they have an obligation to follow up on an opportunity in which they no longer have an interest. While I don’t personally agree with that, it does happen. Some job seekers also feel ghosted by potential employers who don’t follow up with them either. This doesn’t just happen with large employers, I’ve seen it happen here in the local community with smaller organizations.
I’ve never had to personally deal with ghosting by a job seeker, but three years ago I did have to deal with another form of ghosting – someone just not showing up for work. I had hired someone for a sales role and that person started with a lot of energy and excitement, as you’d expect from someone in sales. About two months later, the person just stopped showing up for work. All attempts at communicating with this person failed. Calls, texts, emails, and even social media contact were ignored. I began to worry about this person and had a mutual friend reach out. She told me the person in question was alive and well, but simply didn’t have any interest in the job anymore. Not wanting to be confrontational or disappoint me personally, they unilaterally decided it was best to just ghost me and our company. I have it on good authority this person has had several jobs since then.
Other forms of ghosting can creep into the workplace – sometimes blatant and at other times subtle. During COVID, I had some clients ghost me as they became unable to pay our invoices. Despite offers to work with them through the difficult period with generous payment terms, some people are too proud (or embarrassed) and simply choose the path of least resistance – ghosting. As I write this, I’m being ghosted by a long-term client who owes us money. The owner of the business called me for a personal business favor two months ago but has since not paid our invoices. I tend to be a trusting and patient person and frankly, I’m not sure how to handle the situation. It’s pretty blatant ghosting. In another situation, I reduced a client’s invoice amount during COVID to help them through a tough time. As soon as things got better, they parted ways with us. Not only were they not grateful, but they also didn’t feel any obligation to us whatsoever and moved on.
I’ve also seen other more subtle forms of ghosting, in which someone will only communicate with you on their terms whenever they need something, but it’s never reciprocated and they ghost you until they’re ready to make contact. I’m not sure if it’s a power play or what. We all get busy and sometimes I don’t follow up as fast as I’d like, but I don’t ghost anyone. As a general rule, I think it’s best to respond to someone in the manner in which they communicate with you unless you’ve both agreed to use a defined system. For example, we have too many clients for me to speak with everyone on the phone. We use an online ticket system to handle client requests. It’s allowed us to grow our business and provide better customer service by ensuring all requests are tracked and handled.
Another subtle form of ghosting is when someone does the minimum (or less than the minimum) to get by at work. Symptoms of this can be a lack of energy, tardiness, leaving early, making lots of mistakes, or simply not caring. I think we’ve all seen instances of that, whether you’re working in the same workplace or you’re a customer who sees the behavior. When that happens, the person may be physically there, but they’re not present mentally. If someone isn’t happy in their job, you’d think they’d speak up. Most employers I know want to work with people as best they can to accommodate personal preferences as long as the job gets done. Many people just don’t take pride in doing a good job even if they plan to leave. Does a good or bad job reference mean anything anymore?
As much as I’d like to think that client relationships will last forever, they don’t. All client contracts, including the ones we have, are directly impacted by leadership changes, insourcing, budget cuts, or a client just wanting to work with someone new. My business benefits from that when a client chooses us over someone else. At other times, we lose the business. That’s part of running a business. I respect that and oftentimes make similar decisions on behalf of our company. During a business change like that, I think it’s honorable to have a peaceful ending to the business relationship. Unless there’s some compelling reason to abruptly end a business relationship, then the honorable thing to do is let someone know you’re making a change and why. Frankly, it’s cowardly to do anything otherwise. In the movie “Hang ‘Em High” Jed Cooper said, “When you hang a man, you better look at him.”
Most people don’t like confrontation. Ghosting isn’t the answer. Life is too short and the world too small to burn bridges. An effective leader starts things and ends things deliberately and directly. Doing so demonstrates confidence, courtesy, and professionalism in the workplace.
[Joe Domaleski, a Fayette County resident for 25 years, is the owner of Country Fried Creative – an award-winning digital marketing agency located in Peachtree City. His company was the Fayette Chamber’s 2021 Small Business of the Year. Joe is a husband, father of three grown children, and proud Army veteran. He has an MBA from Georgia State University and enjoys sharing his perspectives drawing from thirty years of business leadership experience. ]
I was once guilty of “ghosting” as a volunteer bookkeeper/accountant. I’m also somewhat ashamed of that. I left the organization without communicating my concerns and never returned. I was wrong, not for leaving, but for not giving the “owner” the courtesy of why I was leaving. The owner and staff were and are very good people and had my respect then and have my respect now. At the time, I didn’t know what to say other than I was crushed by what I saw and experienced. I was a coward. It had never happened before and I hope never happens again. Having always, with that particular exception, been a straight forward, straight talking person, I find it strange how one can have such a lapse in character. I am guilty of the offense.