“Ghosting” is a new reality for employers that, unfortunately, has nothing to do with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore.

The term has been used for years in a social context, especially among millennials, but has recently become so common in the business world that the Federal Reserve reported on it in their December Beige Book (which tracks employment trends). Ghosting generally means cutting off all communication with no explanation. While it’s traditionally been used in the context of dating, in the business world it manifests as behaviors hard to fathom even just a few years ago. This includes job candidates being offered a position but never heard from again, new hires not showing up on the first day of work, or current employees leaving work one day never to return or be heard from again. The healthcare industry is not immune.

Many attribute the uptick of ghosting to society’s decline in civility, and the tendency of young people to bury themselves in their digital life and avoid uncomfortable in-person interactions. But the simple answer, however, is that people can get away with it. The unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in 50 years. Industries of all kinds are hiring at all levels, and there are more open jobs than candidates. In such an employee market, the thinking goes, “who cares if I walk away from this job when there’s another just around the corner?”

Ghosts in the machine

Burning bridges in the relatively small industries of senior living and acute care could come back to haunt ghosters in the long run, but in the short term there is no evidence that ghosting will disappear. It’s difficult to measure how prevalent it is, but some recruiting firms estimate a 10-20% increase in the activity in the past year, and, given that the economy and job market are still strong, there is no indication it will be better in 2019.

Senior care employers do have strategies to protect themselves. To start, get back to basics. Employees want to be involved and engaged professionally and personally. Some companies have responded to the ghosting trend by creating apprentice programs with guaranteed raises and additional training for those who simply continue to show up. While this is a great idea, holding on to employees may be even simpler: People leave jobs and supervisors that they hate. They will at least give notice when they believe both they and their work are valued. Employees who have supervisors who engage them in conversations about work and their personal life, and who feel they have a stake in the success of the company, typically don’t slip away into the night. 

It’s a little trickier preventing job candidates from ghosting right out of the gate (i.e. they don’t respond to the job offer, or don’t show up for their first day of work), but the same principles still apply. Ask (appropriate) personal questions during the interview, take an interest in their personal hobbies, follow up with them, and engage them as you would a new friend.

Finding and keeping qualified staff is critical. These tips will help your organization avoid, or at least diminish, your chance of being ghosted.

Kendra Nicastro is the Director of Business Development at LeaderStat, an interim leadership, executive recruiting and healthcare consulting firm.