How Companies Are Dealing with Millennials Ghosting on Their Jobs

Low unemployment rates in certain sectors and 'texting culture' can mean abrupt departures that create frustration for employers.

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Oct 10 2018, 3:41pm

Photos via Shutterstock unless otherwise noted.

This article originally appeared on Free CA.

Eric Samson’s friends call him a "serial work ghoster" because he’s quit his job with no advanced notice... twice. The first time was as a 24-year-old, working for a Fortune 100 company in Toronto, after 17 months on the job. The second time was this past year, as a 29-year-old manager at a Crown Corporation. In both instances, he left six-figure positions. In both instances, he quit via a short text message, sent on the day he decided not to show up anymore.

He tells me he’d ghost again because he felt he did his best to communicate how unhappy he was with his work circumstances ahead of time. “I gave my bosses every opportunity to hear and understand what my concerns were and ample opportunity to act. If it’s that low on their priority list, if there’s that little urgency to resolve the issue that I’m bringing forward, then I don’t have a fucking ounce of respect for you, I don’t have any desire to extend any kind of professional courtesy to you,” he says. “I can walk away with a clean conscience.”

“Eric Samson” is a pseudonym because he’s bound by a non-disclosure agreement not to speak publicly about his previous employment. Samson’s decision to “ghost” his employers is a move that has been prevalent in the service industry and low-wage positions for some time. What’s new is that experts say it is now pervasive among blue and white-collar jobs alike.

Jim Irwin is a Toronto-based Branch Manager for American staffing firm Robert Half and he says this is behaviour is specific to millennials. He says interview no-shows and employees quitting without giving any notice, have become the norm in the industries he serves, namely the creative, digital and IT space. “We have some historically low unemployment numbers and a labour market that’s tighter than we’ve seen in two decades.” Irwin says his colleagues have encountered this in the financial industry as well.

The national jobless rate, which includes millennials, fell to a relatively low 5.9 percent in September. Irwin estimates that in the areas he serves, which includes the digital creative space, the unemployment rate is as low as three percent, which creates a “buyers’ market” for “employees who know their worth.” He sees a lot of opportunity for Gen Y to call the shots. “If you’re looking for a role, you’re dictating your own pay and your own terms of employment. It’s a good place to be if you’re young and talented.” This trend is one he and his colleagues have observed in tech hubs across North America.

That explains the state of the labour market in urban centres, and the difficulty in attracting and retaining employees. But it doesn’t explain this newly-popular method of making an exit without several days, if not weeks, of advanced notice. Standard practice is two weeks of notice, though there are no legal repercussions for not following this.

Irwin cites “texting culture” as one of the culprits. “Ghosting is a reality of the workplace now. It could be a generational thing, there’s that fear to say no and maybe discomfort in having to reject somebody.”

Stephen Poloz, the head of Canada’s Central Bank, recently wrote about the unusual labour market conditions in this country. His September 27 report states that there are currently 462,000 job vacancies in Canada. The sectors driving the increasing number of unfilled openings include manufacturing, transportation and warehousing, construction and computer system design.

Thirty-eight-year-old Jeff Mann’s company Render Life falls into the “computer” category highlighted by Poloz. He founded the digital creative firm and he was ghosted a few years ago by two employees in their mid 20s who were hired to do marketing, making annual salaries of about $44,000. Mann says he “gave them everything” including flex hours, free snacks, and social events.

The experience left him feeling “pretty disgusted,” though he admits in hindsight that he was in a rush to hire and didn’t do as much due diligence as he should have. Mann says it hit him, and his staff of about 15 people much harder than it would a larger, well-established corporation. “I would call it time theft,” he says. “I equate it to stealing from my company.”

“It’s the most selfish, entitled thing that someone can do,” Mann says. “There’s a reason for [giving] two weeks notice… We need to start planning for that departure. Just disappearing one day leaves a lot of questions. It stressed out some of the other staff members who were friends with these people.”

In a 2016 survey by the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC), 53 percent of organizations said attracting and retaining skilled employees is one of their top challenges. ICTC is a not-for-profit research centre for the digital economy and it states that currently, “the competitive pressure on employers seeking new talent in the ICT [information communication tech] sector is extremely high.”

Irwin says because of the demand for tech workers, companies and hiring managers have to move much faster. Decisions about who to hire, salary and benefits can no longer take weeks. It has to be decided in “five business days or less,” and he says millennials are swayed by company culture and work perks.

“A skilled digital expert is juggling three different offers and they take the one that allows them to work remotely and come into the office once every two weeks and when they do come in they can be barefoot and play pool and there’s draft beer on tap,” he says. “Compared to say, a stuffy old corporate office.”

And even if you offer all of these things, ghosting might still happen. According to Irwin, it’s just part of dealing with millennials, the generation that invented ghosting in all its forms, including serial ghosting. “Whether it’s texting culture or helicopter parenting leading to a life where everything has been taken care of for you, that’s where you’re seeing that disconnect of ghosting.”

He does however, see a big difference in attitude towards career development and communication in the next cohort—Generation Z, who are loosely classified as being 24 years of age and under. “From a managerial standpoint, from a recruitment perspective, this newer generation isn’t too shy to tell you what they want in the workplace,” he says. “It might be naiveté but they’re not afraid to have tough conversations about their work environment and the way their career is progressing. In fact they want everything spelled out for them.”

Part of the answer may be found in Canada’s youth unemployment rate which is 11 percent. Although the jobless rate for 15-24 year-olds remains one of the lowest among developed nations, it’s almost twice as high as the national unemployment rate. Gen Z is in less of a position to dictate their terms of employment.

Irwin is at a loss to explain this difference in attitude and behaviour, other than to say that this younger group seems better able to adapt to the realities of digital communication. He remains reluctant to make sweeping generalizations about an entire generation, but he says the anecdotal evidence is remarkable. “I can see the difference and it’s glaring and clear. It gives me hope for the future.”