May 28, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

An employee who calls in sick during the busiest night of the year is a business owner’s nightmare. An even worse nightmare is when the employee simply decides to leave.

“I think the professional courtesy is not what it used to be,” says Brad Jones, partner at MyStaff.

Most people in business know of the two-week rule; in fact, in certain positions, such as TV newscasting, employees may be contractually obligated to give notice of one month or more before leaving for another job.

But for a growing number of employees, this two-week rule is being thrown out the window. A social media trend known as “ghosting” has crept out of Tinder and into the workplace. And employees these days are not only quitting jobs, they are bailing out of job offers with no notice, explanation, or further contact. It is not a new concept—the previous term was “no call, no show”—but ghosting is a concept that disgruntled millennials appear to be making their own. Generational slander aside, rebranding old concepts as they trend upward is not only a great way to create buzz, but to re-examine workplace dynamics and tactics for keeping key employees.

One of the prime reasons for ghosting is the current 4 percent unemployment rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which leads analysts to believe Americans ghost their jobs due to a plethora of options and a lack of incentives to stay at companies with limited professional growth potential.

“The term is new, but the unemployment rate is kind of new, too,” says Erin Porterfield, executive director of Heartland Workforce Solutions in Omaha, noting that the new brand for the “silent exit” is less important than the reasons employees leave in the first place. “We haven’t really experienced this kind of low unemployment rate in a very long time and that allows people to have lots of choice for positions.”

From coffeehouses to construction, finance to fast food, employers are now in the unenviable position of competing with one another for workers.

“We find that even in particular industry sectors like manufacturing, the employers talk about this concept of snatch-and-grab from employer to employer,” Porterfield says. “If I offer more, then people are going to leave you and come to me. If I train them at one wage then you offer them a dollar more, they go to another employer.”

The concept can be befuddling to employers, but it should not be. Employers need to think of this in terms of hiring: a company calls back the three people who they want to interview for the job, and they ignore the piles of resumes in the HR department. The top two candidates are often called back again, and perhaps even a third time before a decision is made. The runner-up is frequently ignored, not told the job went to the other candidate, and ends up wondering “what happened?”

Avoiding that “what happened” moment is also a way to avoid employees ghosting, according
to Jones.

“In this employment climate, an employee might have three or four offers,” Jones says. “If an employer wants to go through five or six interviews, they are going to lose that candidate.”

In some ways, ghosting is a result of the economy turning the tables, causing the employees to turn the tables on the employers.

“There are some companies that we meet over and over that need to think about improving their culture,” Jones says. “If the employees don’t feel valued, if there’s heavy micromanaging, they may want to rethink their processes.”

There are many tried-and-true ways to keep employees, from extensive benefits packages to simply letting employees know they are valued, but 2019’s landscape of opportunity has employers trying new tactics. One way to keep employees from being snatched by others is to provide workers with a more transparent glimpse of their potential future in an organization.

“To prevent the hopping back and forth from employer to employer takes a similar, competitive wage scale across employers, and a clear ladder up of what the career path looks like. Is there a retention incentive after one month? Three months? Six months? What is the expected time frame for an increase in wage or in job title and responsibilities? These things prevent ghosting,” Porterfield says. “Those employers who are offering less money and a less clear path are going to have more ghosting because people see the choices that they have.”

Ghosters have drifted away from jobs for better opportunities, a happier environment, and the satisfaction of vengeance.

Through Heartland, Porterfield has seen retention success from employers with familial philosophies.

“I’ve been talking with a telemarketing call center in northeast Omaha that experiences less turnover. What they talk about as valuable in employee retention is a caring, family atmosphere for the employees by bringing in services people need to solve problems they experience with family
or finances.”

Julianna Klepfer, director of human resources at Hardy Coffee Co., agrees that culture counts. Many of her employees begin as baristas and stay for several years, becoming roasters, trainers, and managers. She says employee turnover is low and ghosting almost unheard of because they maintain a culture of positivity promoted during a month-long training process.

“Being a barista is not an easy job,” Klepfer says, adding that everyone should work a service job at least once in their life. “We train the employees to do the job, but we also get to know them as well.”

It is this personal touch that keeps employees from becoming apparitions.


Visit hws-ne.org for more information on Heartland Workforce Solutions.

This article was printed in the June 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.