If you’ve been e-mailing with someone who simply stops responding, you’ve been “ghosted.” If you have ever left a party without saying goodbye, you’ve been the ghost. The Urban Dictionary defines ghosting as “when a person cuts off all communication with their friends or the person they’re dating, with zero warning or notice beforehand.”

We might now update that definition to include employers, following reports of job candidates—and even new hires—disappearing without a trace.

I think we can all agree that any kind of ghosting is bad manners, and, indeed, some pundits say a rise in workplace ghosting is a sign that the current generation has no manners (forgetting that most job seekers aren’t kids). Others say this behavior is a sign that the job market must be incredibly hot. There is something to that—candidates today are not so desperate that they follow up every chance for a job. But I think there’s something even bigger going on.

The internet changed hiring practices in the tight labor market of the late 1990s by making it easier for candidates to submit resumes electronically. When lots of applications started coming in, recruiters used applicant-tracking software to sort through them. With thousands of applications coming in for even simple jobs, it was difficult for employers to respond to all of them—not impossible, of course, just difficult to set up a way to do it. Most didn’t bother.

In other words, they were ghosting applicants: You never knew if the employer just wasn’t interested in you or whether your application somehow fell through the cracks. The softening of the job market after the dot-com bust and the Great Recession meant that for virtually all employers, fighting off applicants was a bigger challenge than hiring them, and employer ghosting was commonplace. Today, unsuccessful job candidates simply have no expectation of getting any response to their résumés. Even candidates who have been through several rounds of interviews tell me that they’ve had prospective recruiters simply stop returning their calls.

Is it really so surprising that we would now hear about the opposite problem?

The main reason for employee ghosting, according to surveys, is the same reason that employers ghost: They’ve already found someone else. The applicants have applied to lots of jobs, in many cases hundreds of them, and the employers still get lots of applicants—in many cases, thousands. Employers offer jobs to only 0.4% of their applicants, so even in this tighter labor market, there is a lot of shopping going on.

Hiring has become a transaction, and ghosting is like leaving something in your Amazon cart.

Two-sided ghosting in this transactional world signals that the two sides are no longer very invested in making a good match. Part of the reason, as is often the case, has to do with cost. On the employer side, the most important metric for success in recruiting is “cost per hire,” or how little can it spend to recruit a candidate. Given that, it’s no surprise that recruiting remains transactional.

And on the employee side, transactional hiring ought to tell us something big about the nature of contemporary work. Wendell Young, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union in the Delaware Valley, told me something interesting about job hopping among workers in the many food-processing plants in Pennsylvania. He said that the companies all pay just about the same, and the work is the same. They’ve gotten rid of seniority-based pay and benefits that encourage workers to stay longer, and there is very little opportunity for advancement. If you can get even a slight raise by going elsewhere, there is simply no reason to stay.

White-collar jobs, where much of the recruiting action is, don’t look that different from food processing. As much as 95% of hiring is for experienced workers who will step right in and perform a job they have already done someplace else. Any job in which the tasks are pretty similar, and the easiest attribute to differentiate one from the other is the pay, will suffer the same problem.

Transactional workplaces lead to transactional hiring, which leads to ghosting on both sides. Everyone’s feelings get hurt, and we are no better off in the end.

Source: Barron’s, January 18, 2019 | Peter Cappelli