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Workplace Etiquette: The haunting truth of ‘ghosting’

By Sarah Sladek, XYZ University CEO

Workplace etiquette. Turns out, that’s a pretty controversial subject right now.

Recently I presented at a conference for healthcare executives and heard many complaints about the youngest generations in the workforce and their disregard for etiquette. Topping the list of complaints: quitting via text, not showing up for work, and calling the boss by his first name.

Is the etiquette divide the indication of a generation gap or a social shift?

Turns out, it’s both.

Across the United States, so many people are not showing up for job interviews, not responding to job offers, blowing off a job they’ve already accepted, or even mysteriously not returning to work, that economists have taken notice.

In December 2018, the practice of “ghosting” made the Federal Reserve Bank’s list of official labor market trends. Ghosting is slang for describing the practice of breaking off a relationship by ceasing all communication and contact without any apparent warning or justification.

Reactions to the ghosting milestone have been mixed, often aligning with career stage or generation.

For example, most executives believe it’s a sign of the times and lament our deteriorating ability to be social or halfway civil with each other.

But some people—mostly entry-level or mid-level employees who tend to represent younger generations—are basking in the ironic twist that it’s employers, rather than job applicants, left wondering why they were so quietly and uneventfully rejected. Scarred by past events, these people argue that for years it was customary to not hear back from a prospective employer, even after interviews and extensive screenings.

Some experts believe ghosting is on the rise because of the job market. Unemployment is at its lowest point in decades and there are more job openings than there are people looking for jobs. As a result, this has emboldened workers to skip the awkward conversations with their bosses and quickly move on to other opportunities.

Others say the rise in ghosting is a clear indication of employee disengagement and a means of protest. When people abruptly quit their jobs, it’s often a symptom of bad communication or disrespect between management and employees, so employees are ghosting to demonstrate their disapproval.

Still others blame the lack of workforce training in the education system. In the 1990s, secondary curriculum shifted from career and trades-based education towards advanced placement and college prep courses. As a result, most Millennials didn’t receive training on workforce-related situations or etiquette and are literally learning the correct behaviors while on the job.

Whatever the reason, the ghosting trend is lending itself to both conflict and controversy. As a generational researcher, I don’t like watching this unfold as an entry-level vs executive-level tug-of-war. I’ve observed first-hand how executives categorize this as a “Millennial” problem, which leads to increased negativity and stereotypes.

Generational conflict is already prominent in our workforce and closely linked to steep declines in productivity and profitability. While it’s true employers used to get away with ‘ghosting’ their prospective employees, the times have changed. Many executives are realizing the error of their ways and making shifts to prioritize people.

In any case, ghosting someone is a surefire way to burn bridges and tank your reputation or, in the case of the executive, the company’s brand. It’s not okay for young employees to ghost their employers, and it’s not okay for employers to ghost employees. Two wrongs never make a right.

My advice to both parties: Communicate. Respect. Do unto others and don’t burn bridges. And whatever you do, don’t quit via text.

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