John O'Connor, VP, Associate Publisher, Editorial Director

How tough is the labor market? It has come to this: More and more employees are simply disappearing.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago put a name on this growing trend in its December’s Beige Book: “A number of [employers] said that they had been ‘ghosted,’ a situation in which a worker stops coming to work without notice and then is impossible to contact.” Maybe the no-shows were inspired by the movie “Office Space”?

There are no national numbers on how often ghosting takes place. But there is a good chance this sector is well represented. Why? Because long-term care facilities often feature two characteristics likely to spur the practice: relatively low pay and poor treatment of employees. (I know, not at your facility. But both have been known to occur in this field.)

For this unfortunate turn of events, we can largely thank an increasingly tight labor market. We are about nine months into a trend whereby job openings have actually been higher than the number of available seekers. In fact, we are seeing some of the lowest unemployment figures in nearly half a century. The rate has been around 3.7% since September.

In other words, your prospects and employees now have the best job options they have ever had.

As for the consequences? Applicants are increasingly blowing off job interviews. More people who get hired are never reporting to work. And worst of all, more employees are simply leaving, never to be seen again.

I spoke to one operator who now makes two offers for each available position, as there’s a good chance one or both hires won’t show up.

So how should long-term care operators respond to this unfortunate development?

The easy answer is offer more money and perks. Really. I realize that labor is already your biggest expense. But if you don’t want someone to leave for a job that pays $11 an hour, you probably shouldn’t be  paying $10.

Consultants say another proven tactic is to build good relationships throughout the hiring process. It helps to put yourself in the applicant’s position. Are prospects likely to feel like they are at a cattle call? Or are they more likely to feel they are being courted for something that’s a great opportunity?

And that’s just for starters. What happens once your new hires show up — assuming they do? Are they put on career growth track, mentored and treated like the important team members they are? Or are they being milked for all they are worth until they flee?

Here’s a good way to see where you stand: Take a look at your organization’s turnover rate. If it’s near or above 25%, you have your work cut out.

It might also be a good idea to ask your charges how they like their jobs, and how management might do things better. Just make sure those meetings aren’t scheduled for after lunch.

John O’Connor is McKnight’s Editorial Director.