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Workplace Ghosting

By George Waggott, founder, and Roberto Fonseca-Velazquez, summer law student,

George Waggott Law

Ghosting was a term first used to describe suddenly ceasing all communication with someone the subject is dating, but no longer wishes to date. This is done in hopes that the ghostee will just “get the hint” and leave the other person alone, as opposed to simply telling them you are no longer interested. Although originally a dating term, the term ghosting can be applied to any relationship including that between a job candidate and a potential employer. As one BioSpace article says, ghosting is the professional equivalent of standing up someone for a date. In the employment context, this can be done by either the applicant or employer ceasing communications with the other at any point in the hiring process.

Ghosting is not new to the job market. For instance, when there are more job seekers than open positions, candidates do not always hear back from recruiters. However, in the current labour market, those looking for work may have the advantage. Some employers say candidates are cutting off communications early in the hiring process — after an initial phone screen or interview, for instance. But others take it further, with one-quarter of employers reporting new hires “no-showing” on their first day of work. The ghosting phenomenon is mostly affecting lower-paid jobs in service-sector industries that have been hit hard by layoffs in the early stages of the pandemic only to see consumer demand bounce back quickly. Examples where this has been reported include in the hospitality and service sectors.

When the employer is the ghoster, they have been known to blame the job application platforms and sheer volume of applications as a reason they do not get back to every applicant. The alleged deluge of applications has made some employers claim that it is nearly impossible for companies to personally contact each and every applicant. Even if this is accurate, the situation makes some job seekers believe companies don't care about them. Further, when job seekers see that some corporations are acting rudely, they justify their own ghosting. A tight labour market could also mean that talented, desirable candidates may be faced with multiple job offers at once, perhaps giving them some sense that they can simply choose the job they want and ignore responding to other offers or employers. This may become more common if someone was ghosted in the past.

The practice of ghosting during the hiring process could be detrimental professionally. Travis O’Rourke, President of Hays Canada, a recruitment agency, says that even in a tight labour market, ghosting is a risky practice. Almost all employers these days use application tracking systems, he notes. A no-show will likely result in a permanent red flag on a candidate’s file. And standing up a hiring manager also alienates someone who may in the future be in a position of making staffing decisions at a different company, O’Rourke warns. You never know who you will end up working with in the future, who you’ll be sharing a panel with at your next conference, or who will be sitting across from you at the interview table. If it’s someone you’ve ghosted, you may be in for a rocky, awkward conversation. On the other side of the equation, recruiters, talent acquisition and managers should at least try to show some level of empathy and compassion, which can often be achieved with the briefest of messages.  Avoiding ghosting will also likely help improve a company’s brand and reputation, as people will recognize that the company actually cares about people who have expressed an interest in working for them.

For any ghoster, remember that focusing on attentiveness and improved communications throughout every stage of the process is a key to ensuring the other party feels informed - research has shown that many people ghost when they don’t feel their needs are being met and don’t know what else to do. Simply being transparent, empathetic and authentic can go a long way in building more comfort and trust in your professional relationships.

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