Why You Shouldn't Ghost at Work


"Ghosting" has moved from the romantic realm into the work world. Or at least that's the trend reported in recent news stories, which describe job candidates agreeing to sit for interviews or even accept offers only to disappear without a trace, baffling recruiters.

Yet ghosting on job opportunities isn't a new phenomenon. Back when Henry Ford employed workers at his Model T car factories, the company policy assumed that someone who failed to show up for work without explanation on five consecutive days had quit, says Kevin Lang, professor of economics at Boston University.

"Apparently, it was a common way of people quitting," he explains. "We know this goes back 100 years."

Still, it's surprising that this flaky behavior persists in the modern era, when the ubiquitous use of digital communication tools means "it would be trivial to let someone know you're not going to show up for an interview," Lang says.

Today's low unemployment rate and plethora of open positions may tempt workers to renege on recruiting appointments. Or prospective employees may simply feel uncomfortable breaking bad news to a potential boss. But neither the strong economy nor the fear of awkwardness justifies impolite behavior, experts say.

"Particularly in the age of technology, there is no excuse for ghosting on someone," says Dana Brownlee, founder of Professionalism Matters, an Atlanta-based professional development training company.

Workplace Ghosting Could Put Your Reputation at Risk

Considering your own best interests, there's one big reason not to ghost on a job opportunity: "It erodes your credibility," Brownlee says. "That's a pretty dangerous way to manage your career."

Employers talk, and word can spread quickly about which candidates are unreliable, says Gabriel Shaoolian, CEO and founder of DesignRush, a digital marketing and design company. As a manager, Shaoolian has experienced ghosting from job candidates, especially those with skills that are in high demand among employers.

"[If] you burn a recruiter, it will come back to bite you in the future," he says. "Why take the chance?"

Of course, social norms – and other people's emotions – matter too. And when job candidates or new hires simply disappear, recruiters and managers end up feeling disrespected and confused.

"That's when these negative fantasies start," Brownlee says. "You don't know if the person got hit by a truck, or if they hate you all of a sudden and are whispering about you in a back room."

To keep your reputation intact, adhere to the following advice to minimize the chances you'll be tempted to ghost at work or disappear during the interview process.

Do Your Homework

When it comes to job seeking, some people don't have the luxury of choice. They need paychecks, pronto, and don't put much thought into the work they apply for. But if you have a bit more leeway, "look for the right company," Shaoolian advises.

Before applying, spend time and effort assessing which roles and companies are good fits for your preferences in order to decrease the risk of wanting to jump ship later on. During interviews, seek information on workplace details that matter to you.

"I think people forget the interview process should be a two-way street. It's you interviewing them as well," Brownlee says. "It benefits both parties to ensure there's a great fit."

Once you've made contact with a company, don't let your initial impressions, whether positive or negative, entirely guide your behavior, Brownlee suggests. The first person you interact with may be a human resources representative you'll barely encounter once you start working.

"You want to at least get some exposure to the manager," Brownlee says. "Don't do yourself a disservice by dropping out prematurely. Go far enough in the process to gather the data you need to make an informed decision."

Acknowledge Other Options

Employers have no illusions that all job seekers only have eyes for them. "Everyone knows when you go on that first date, there's no commitment," Brownlee says. "Employers know the best candidates have other opportunities. That's the way it works."

If you're not totally sold on a job opportunity, feel free to gently express that to a recruiter or interviewer when the time is right. Being transparent about considering opportunities at other companies can help hiring managers form reasonable expectations about your intentions – and maybe even improve their job offers to you or lead them to propose other positions that might appeal more to you.

"If you do need to make that somewhat uncomfortable phone call, it doesn't come across as a bait-and-switch," Brownlee says.

Deliver the News Strategically

Few people relish having tough conversations in the workplace. But when it's time for you to leave your job, you must conquer your fear of confrontation, Shaoolian says. "Part of being a professional means dealing with things you may not want to deal with."

Thankfully, experts say most employers take this kind of news in stride, as long as it's expressed appropriately. "If you know how to approach something in a calm, cool manner, you could always leave the door open," Shaoolian says.

The medium you should use depends on the depth of your relationship with a company. If you're quitting a new job, a face-to-face conversation is the best option. If you're turning down an offer or dropping out of the hiring process, a phone call or email should suffice.

No matter what, balance honesty with discretion, Brownlee says. "Focus the conversation on the work rather than you personally," she says. "That creates a little bit of distance and depersonalizes it somewhat."

When composing an email that explains why you're leaving the interview process or turning down a job offer, don't feel the need to over-explain your decision, Brownlee says. She suggests the following format: "I appreciated the chance you meet you. Thank you for taking the time. I'm humbled by a number of opportunities and decided to go in a different direction."

In a conversation about why you're quitting a relatively new job, you should provide more context and express a bit more remorse about the inconvenience you're causing, Brownlee says. She suggests the following template: "I really wrestled with this decision, and last thing I would ever want to do to put you in the lurch. If I was in your position, I would want this information sooner rather than later. I'm more than willing to stay on and help with onboarding. What can I do in these last few weeks that would be most helpful to you?"

It's unlikely to happen, but if an employer responds aggressively or rudely to your message, it's best not to respond, unless absolutely necessary. If a conversation degenerates into "nasty" language, resist the temptation to retaliate, Brownlee says. "You've done what you needed to do and you can just move on," she explains.

Remember: It's Not Too Late

Maybe you already ghosted on a recruiter or manager. Fear not: It's not too late to reduce the damage done by sending an apology email, Brownlee says. She recommends composing a message similar to the following: "I had an urgent personal matter to attend to and had to leave. I realize it's not acceptable to do that, and I’m sorry I wasn't able to give the notice I needed to give."

When in doubt, Brownlee sugggests referring to what she calls the professional golden rule: "Treat other people the way you want to be treated."