Pulse Points: Ghost(ing) Stories
By Josh Corman

AT THE MOMENT, THERE ARE FEW CONCERNS more pressing within the spa industry than the ongoing hiring challenges faced by so many spa leaders. Given the shortage of available, qualified service providers on the market, even landing an interview with a great candidate can feel like winning the lottery. However, those warm feelings are sure to disappear quickly if that candidate “ghosts” you, suddenly ceasing all communication, failing to show up for their interview or—worst of all—failing to show up for their first day of work even after being hired.

Ghosting is not a new phenomenon—reports of an increase in that kind of behavior date back a few years, at least. It does appear, however, that the practice is on the rise among job seekers for reasons that only partially have to do with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ghosting on the Rise
The employment site Indeed conducted a survey of 500 job seekers and 500 employers across multiple industries to determine just how big an issue ghosting is becoming. More than a quarter of job seekers (28 percent) said that they have ghosted an employer in the past year, compared to just 19 percent in 2019. During that same period, more than three quarters of employers (76 percent) reported being ghosted by a candidate. More than half of employers (57 percent) said they believe ghosting is more prevalent than ever before.

Often, the sudden halt of contact between employers and candidates occurs relatively early in the process, such as following an initial phone screen or even a face-to-face interview, but 25 percent of employers said that at least one new hire had “no-showed” for their scheduled first day of work. For obvious reasons, such practices are incredibly disruptive for spas who may believe they have filled a key position—and stopped their candidate search—only to be forced back to the drawing board. Even if a spa chooses just one of several excellent candidates, it’s likely that those other potential hires will have found other opportunities in the meantime.

The reasons that candidates gave for ghosting employers are varied. One in five job seekers said they had done so after receiving another job offer, and 15 percent said it was because they had decided the job in question wasn’t right for them, while just 13 percent said the offered pay rate was not enough.

Additional data from business consulting firm Korn Ferry indicates that a third of surveyed U.S. retailers said that at least 25 percent of candidates they hire to staff their distribution centers don’t show up at all. Radhika Papandreou, ISPA Stronger Together Summit speaker and leader of Korn Ferry’s Travel, Hospitality and Leisure practice notes that the competitive labor market contributes heavily to ghosting. “Unless Employer A moves fast, Employer B will scoop up the potential candidate and these candidates will not show up for Employer A,” Papandreou explains.

A Two-Way Street
Given this data, it may be tempting to paint today’s job seekers as rude at best and irresponsible at worst, but Indeed’s report offers another factor that is partially to blame for the ghosting spike: employers’ own communication habits.

For example, nearly four in five job seekers (77 percent) said that they have been ghosted by a prospective employer since March 2020 and 10 percent reported that an employer has ghosted them even after a verbal job offer was made. For their part, only around one quarter of employers (27 percent) say they have not ghosted a job seeker in the year preceding the study. Just less than half of employers (46 percent) surveyed reported that they believe that job seekers are being ghosted by employers more frequently than before.

As with job seekers, there are a number of potential explanations for increased ghosting among employers. The tempestuous nature of the labor market over the past year and a half has meant that recruiters may be doing more outreach and handling more candidate requests than is typical, making communications more difficult to manage.

Responses and Repercussions
Despite the sharp rise in incidences of ghosting in recent years, it’s not as though employers are without options for addressing the behavior. For their part, more than half of job seekers (54 percent) report facing consequences from ghosting, which is up from just six percent in 2019. The vast majority of employers (93 percent) keep track of ghosters, and 80 percent of them believe that candidates who ghost employers will experience negative impacts on their future job search or career, according to Indeed’s report.

No matter the long-term effects of ghosting on a candidate’s future prospects, however, it seems clear that the act of ghosting itself is not likely to disappear any time soon. Researchers and recruiting experts alike suggest that employers can combat the practice by prioritizing close communication with candidates. Liz Lewis, a writer and researcher at Indeed, writes that prioritizing clear, open communication with candidates can reduce the likelihood of ghosting, and 63 percent of employers agree. By making sure that job seekers have as much information about the job as possible and know whom to contact with questions or updates, employers give job seekers the opportunity to share concerns early before they grow into the kinds of problems that lead to ghosting.

Speaking at the ISPA Stronger Together Summit in May, recruiting experts Andrea Zemel and Tracey Kalimeris shared their own tips for reducing the likelihood of ghosting. Zemel, who oversees people and culture at Trilogy Spa Holdings, advised spa leaders or hiring managers to conduct phone screenings with candidates to get them engaged in the position early. “Talk to them about why it’s an exciting opportunity before you even schedule [an interview],” she advised. It’s also important, Zemel noted, to communicate expectations and make sure that the candidate knows where to go, who will interview them and what the interview will be like. Indeed’s research indicates that anxiety about the interview process is one common reason candidates say they have ghosted an employer, so such communication may help settle those nerves and make the process less intimidating.

Kalimeris reiterated the importance of this kind of communication— even if it means sharing bad news. “You have to be transparent through the search,” she said. “If they’re not the successful candidate, let them know why they’re not and how you can help get them there in the future, if that’s something they want.”

Jacob Zabkowicz, vice president and general manager of Korn Ferry’s Recruitment Process Outsourcing business, advises employers to continue this kind of close communication even after the offer has been accepted, which can make new recruits feel welcome and appreciated.

Despite its negative effects on job seekers and employers alike, it seems that ghosting may remain a part of the recruitment process for the foreseeable future. However, by communicating with candidates honestly and transparently, spa industry leaders can reduce the likelihood that this disruptive practice will impact their business and start employees off knowing that they’re joining a team that respected their time and valued their concerns before they logged a single hour in their new role. If ghosting is a lose-lose situation, that alternative is undoubtedly a win-win.