Being ‘Ghosted’ … by a New Hire

Some companies tell Korn Ferry that 25% or more of their new recruits don’t show up on the first day, and it isn’t just entry-level employees doing it, either. How to exorcise the problem.

Who doesn’t show up on their first day on the job?

Some company leaders are finding that the answer to that question these days is: a lot of people.

In our new survey, nearly a third of participating US retailers say at least 25% of the candidates they hire to staff their distribution centers don’t ever show at all. Hotel chains and restaurants that expected their new waitstaff to be on the job are having to scramble to take orders and clean tables when the new crew doesn’t materialize. Even some highly compensated workers in India are either not showing up for their first day on the job or declining the job they were offered—a day before they were supposed to start.

Experts blame today’s unusually hot job market, which is so strong in some sectors that many candidates are getting multiple job offers between the time they accept one and the time they are supposed to start. It’s primarily an issue with hourly employees, but some salaried workers are joining in the vanishing act. “Candidate ghosting is happening globally,” says Jacob Zabkowicz, vice president and general manager of Korn Ferry’s Recruitment Process Outsourcing business. He says the problem could get worse as economies worldwide emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ghosting, at least in the workplace, usually refers to employers stopping—or sometimes never starting—communication with people who apply for jobs. It’s been a sore spot for job candidates worldwide, and some take out their frustrations by bad-mouthing those employers to friends and other job candidates. But the surging job market has been turned on its head. In a job-search survey, 28% of employees say they’ve left employers hanging in 2020, up from 19% in 2019. Usually, candidates disappeared much earlier in the recruitment process. Of the people who said they blew companies off, 46% didn’t show up for a job interview, and 48% just said they stopped communicating.

Some organizations, particularly those with many low-wage jobs, are used to some degree of ghosting. For example, candidates may not realize how physically difficult a job can be in a distribution center, which often involves lifting things and being on your feet all day. If they find out before their first day, they may just not show up, says Craig Rowley, a Korn Ferry senior client partner who specializes in retail. But traditionally that’s just a few people: “Usually it’s a handful of workers who don’t show. It’s not twenty percent of who you hire.”

The next few months could create more difficulties for firms. For one thing, since many firms have simplified and digitized their job applications, more and more candidates are applying for multiple jobs at once, says Marc Wallace, a Korn Ferry senior client partner. At the same time, companies are pushing to add more employees even as there are more than 9 million jobs already open in the United States alone. “Unless Employer A moves fast, Employer B will scoop up the potential candidate and these candidates will not show up for Employer A,” says Radhika Papandreou, leader of Korn Ferry’s Travel, Hospitality, and Leisure practice. Ghosting could be particularly acute for retail jobs; consumers are making up for not spending as much during the pandemic, which means a lot more people will be needed to handle goods at stores and distribution centers. “I’ve never seen anything like that in 40 years of doing this,” Rowley says.

To exorcise candidate ghosting, experts recommend multiple different strategies. Papandreou says some organizations are using hiring bonuses paid out after employees start the job, paying daily rather than weekly, and extending retirement savings benefits to all of their workers. For distribution-center jobs, Rowley suggests that companies show candidates what the jobs are really like before expecting them to start. Another tactic is enticing existing employees to find new recruits by offering referral bonuses. “No one wants to refer an unreliable person,” Rowley says.

Organizations also need to do better at getting the candidate invested in working at the company before their first day on the job. Keep communicating with them after they accept, Zabkowicz says, and make your new recruits feel welcome and appreciated.