In this booming job market, workers are quitting by ‘ghosting’

Washington Post

Economists report that workers are starting to act like millennials on Tinder: They’re ditching jobs with nary a text.

“A number of contacts said that they had been ‘ghosted,’ a situation in which a worker stops coming to work without notice and then is impossible to contact,” the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago noted in December’s Beige Book report, which tracks employment trends.

National data on economic “ghosting” is lacking. The term, which normally applies to dating, first surfaced on in 2016. But companies across the country say silent exits are on the rise.


Analysts blame America’s increasingly tight labor market. Job openings have surpassed the number of seekers for eight straight months, and the unemployment rate has clung to a 49-year low of 3.7% since September.

Janitors, baristas, welders, accountants, engineers — they’re all in demand, said Michael Hicks, a labor economist at Ball State University in Indiana. More people may opt to skip tough conversations and slide right into the next thing.

“Why hassle with a boss and a bunch of out-processing,” he said, “when literally everyone has been hiring?”

Recruiters at global staffing firm Robert Half have noticed a 10% to 20% increase in ghosting over the last year, D.C. district President Josh Howarth said.

Applicants blow off interviews. New hires turn into no-shows. Workers leave one evening and never return.

“You feel like someone has a high level of interest, only for them to just disappear,” Howarth said.


Over the summer, woes he heard from clients emerged in his own life. A job candidate for a recruiter role asked for a day to mull over an offer, saying she wanted to discuss the terms with her spouse.

Then she halted communication.

“In fairness,” Howarth said, “there are some folks who might have so many opportunities they’re considering, they honestly forget.”

Keith Station, director of business relations at Heartland Workforce Solutions, which connects job hunters with companies in Omaha, said workers in his area are most likely to skip out on low-paying service positions.

“People just fall off the face of the Earth,” he said of the area, which has an especially low unemployment rate of 2.8%.

Some employers in Nebraska are trying to head off unfilled shifts by offering apprentice programs that guarantee raises and additional training over time.

“Then you want to stay and watch your wage grow,” Station said.

Other recruitment businesses point to solutions from China, where ghosting took off during the last decade’s explosive growth.

“We generally make two offers for every job because somebody doesn’t show up,” said Rebecca Henderson, chief executive of Randstad Sourceright, a talent acquisition firm.

And if both hires stick around, she said, her multinational clients are happy to deepen the bench.

Though ghosting in the United States does not yet require that level of backup planning, consultants urge employers to build meaningful relationships at every stage of the hiring process.

Someone who feels invested in an enterprise is less likely to bounce, said Melissa and Johnathan Nightingale, who have written about leadership and dysfunctional management.

“Employees leave jobs that suck,” they said in an email. “Jobs where they’re abused. Jobs where they don’t care about the work. And the less engaged they are, the less need they feel to give their bosses any warning.”

Some employees are simply young and restless, said James Cooper, former manager of the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park, where he said people ghosted regularly.

A few of his staffers were college students who lived in park dormitories for the summer.

“My favorite,” he said, “was a kid who left a note on the floor in his dorm room that said, ‘Sorry bros, had to ghost.’ ”

Other ghosters describe an inner voice that just says: Nah.

Zach Keel, a 26-year-old server in Austin, Texas, made the call last year to flee a combination bar and cinema after realizing he would have to clean the place until sunrise. More work, he calculated, was always around the corner.

“I didn’t call,” Keel said. “I didn’t show up. I figured: No point in feeling guilty about something that wasn’t that big of an issue. Turnover is so high, anyway.”

Paquette writes for the Washington Post.