Many years ago, my role was to lead the new hire onboarding for my company. We had a great onboarding program and new hires had a great experience getting to know their co-workers and the culture. At the end of day one, I had started asking everyone if they were planning to come back for day two. I meant it as a joke. Everyone always came back. One day someone asked me with astonishment if anyone had not come back for day two. It seemed to me that he couldn’t imagine someone just not showing up to work on their second day. At the time, I couldn’t imagine that either. But today the practice of “ghosting” has become very common in the workplace.

If you’ve spent any time in the online dating world you’ve probably been on one end or the other of ghosting. If you are unfamiliar with this term, it is the practice of cutting off all communication after there has been some type of meaningful interaction. This practice has been common in online dating and now has begun to creep into the professional setting. Ghosting occurs on the part of the employee as well as the employer. Sometimes employers don’t reach back out to a candidate after an interview or actively avoid calls and emails of a candidate they aren’t going to hire. Sometimes employees agree to come for an interview or even accept a job offer only to not show up. Sometimes employees come for a day or two and then just don’t come back. Why has this become such a common occurrence? People want to avoid conflict. Our society has become so conflict adverse that most people are not willing to have the hard conversations. They’d much rather avoid the situation altogether.

We can do better. A survey from indicated that 54% of job seekers regret that they ghosted a previous employer. What can employers do to improve this situation? First, set the example for how employees should treat employers and stop ghosting employees. 73% of employers admit to ghosting a job seeker in the past year, according to the same Indeed survey. When an employer ghosts an employee, it sends a message to employees that ghosting is acceptable in the workplace. It is also important to set the expectation to employees that a negative response is better than no response. If I ask a friend to have dinner with me, I’d much rather she tell me “No” than ignore me. Then I can move on and make other plans or we could discuss another date. When my friend gives me a negative response it allows us to possibly come up with an alternate plan that wouldn’t have been possible had she said nothing at all. The same is true in the workplace. Let employees know that we would rather hear something from them. It’s ok to say I’ve changed my mind, this isn’t the job for me after all.

We are all part of the problem of ghosting, therefore, we all need to be a part of the solution. We need to do better at communicating and not be so afraid to say something that someone might not want to hear.

Jennifer Webster SHRM-CP; HR Advisor, Silberman Group