Have you heard about the phenomenon of employees “ghosting” their employers? In this month’s edition of the HR Advisor Newsletter, we look at this unfortunate phenomenon, why it’s happening, and what employers can do to prevent it. We also have some spring-cleaning tips for the office and a reminder about OSHA reporting. As always, thank you for reading!
When Employment Is Impersonal, Courtesy Goes Out the Door
In December, The Washington Post reported on an odd, eyebrow-raising phenomenon in the working world: employees are “ghosting” their employers. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, ghosting is an unfortunately common practice in the dating scene. It occurs when someone breaks off a relationship without warning or notice and then ceases all communication. In the business scene, it’s a catchier, hipper name for job abandonment. Instead of giving the courtesy of a two-week notice—or any notice for that matter—employees just vanish without a word, silently moving on to their next endeavor.
These employees feel comfortable abandoning their jobs because they believe ghosting their employers won’t come back to haunt them. And they may be right. With the unemployment rate being remarkably low and the demand for skills remarkably high, workers often have the upper hand, so much so there’s sometimes little incentive for them to depart cordially. They’re not worried about a bad reference, and it’s nothing to them if their former employer now scrambles to find coverage.
While ghosting is one way that employees quit their jobs, another is when a worker takes pains to publicize their disapproval, usually online, enumerating grievance after grievance to any interested parties. Would-be employees—arguably the most interested party—only need to search a prospective employer’s name on the internet to see what the current and former employees have to say about its working conditions.
Even if most employees still leave their jobs with adequate notice and common courtesy, the fact is that workers are quitting their jobs in record numbers. With so many workers jumping from job to job—eager for better compensation, career growth, improved cultural fit, or just something different—and with the demand for work greater than the supply of unemployed workers, employers are searching for effective ways to keep talented people in their organizations and encourage positive brand messaging from their employees.
The Upside and Downside of the Employment Relationship
As we discussed in September, the best way for employers to attract and retain happy, hard-working people is to be useful to their employees, providing things such as skill and career development, coaching, meaningful work, praise and appreciation, community, and monetary rewards for organizational success (see the article linked below to learn more). These benefits are important because the employment relationship is fundamentally about usefulness. The more useful an employer can be to its employees, the more it can satisfy their wants and needs, the stronger the incentive will be for employees to stay.
But this basis of the employment relationship is also why employers and employees don’t always get along. And it is why some employees vanish without a word or—worse—with a diatribe against their employer. When people have personal connections, they’re motivated to work through their conflicting interests with respect, care, and a willingness to compromise. But if their relationship is about nothing but utility, if the other’s momentary usefulness is all that matters, then there’s no incentive to be courteous and understanding when conflicts arise or when one party ceases to be of use. The relationship can be discarded as you would discard a dead battery, bent key, or some other now-useless thing.
What’s more, some employees are going to leave no matter what an employer can offer. If retaining employees isn’t always possible, employers can still endeavor to make the departures smooth and cordial so as to minimize turnover expenses and encourage former employees to speak well of the organization.
The Role of HR
When retaining employees isn’t possible or desirable, HR still has an important role. Here are a few ways to respectfully say “goodbye” when the time comes:
- Address poor employee performance early. When an employee isn’t getting their job done or otherwise meeting expectations, the easy answer is often to terminate their employment. However, immediate termination, particularly with no warning or attempts by the employer to correct the performance, sends the employee away with a chip on their shoulder and leaves the employer without adequate coverage. If the employee is feeling particularly retaliatory, they may launch into a public tirade online or file an unlawful termination claim. As an alternative to immediate termination, you can put the employee on a performance improvement plan. If successful, it would further both your interests and the employee’s; and, if not, it would at least show a good faith attempt to give the employee a chance to improve, reducing liability if termination becomes necessary.
- Solicit employee feedback. As you may know, most employees in the United States are either unengaged or actively disengaged. Disengaged employees are more likely to complain about their jobs or their bosses or other work-related matters, but probably not to their employers. Some of their complaints might be legitimate and worth addressing, but if they’re only talking to each other or to people outside the company, employers can’t do anything to resolve the specific problems, and the negativity only begets more negativity. The solution: collaborate with employees to identify and address problems in the workplace. You can solicit direct feedback through surveys, stay interviews, exit interviews, and regular check-ins between managers and subordinates. Employees will only be willing to share the concerns, however, if they believe it’s safe to do so and they trust that their employer will at least attempt, in good faith, to address their concerns.
- Say goodbye with style. It can be sad, and an extra challenge, when good employees take jobs elsewhere. But it can also be a cause for celebration, and both the departing and remaining employees will appreciate a nice send-off, even if it’s just through a company-wide email. When you celebrate the bittersweet successes of your employees, you show you really care about their professional development and them as individuals. They move on with good will and with a good impression of their time at your organization.
It’s wonderful if employers can motivate good employees to stay with their organization, but that’s not always realistic. Since some employees—both the good and not-so-good performers—will inevitably leave the organization, it serves the interest of employers to make these terminations as smooth and respectful as possible. That reduces the chances of disengaged employees ghosting their employers or loudly announcing their displeasure to prospective customers, to job candidates, or to anyone else who will listen.
With year-end and first-of-the-year goals out of the way and a lull between holidays, there’s no better time to do some organizational spring cleaning. As many experts in tidying up and clearing clutter will tell you, a clean space with room for movement (both physical and psychological) will boost productivity and just make people feel better.
You may be low on time, or you might feel ready to embrace some serious reorganization. Depending on the number of hours available, consider mixing and matching the following spring-cleaning options, from quickest to most comprehensive.
- Do a walk-through of the workplace to ensure that pathways are clear and free of tripping or falling hazards. This may mean finding storage for unused furniture, breaking down boxes, or finding a system to organize supplies.
- Set aside 30 to 90 minutes for employees to tidy up their work areas. Ask them to recycle or shred documents they no longer need, give their filing cabinet or desk drawers a once-over, clean up unruly cables, and wipe everything down.
- Take an inventory of things that need to be fixed and start tackling it from most to least important. This might include a broken lock on a bathroom door, dirty walls, carpet stains, broken office chairs, fraying uniforms, mismatched name tags, or malfunctioning computer equipment.
- Clean up personnel files. Often in the day-to-day rush, a document will just get stuffed into the middle of a file. Take time to go through and file documents in the right places, whether that’s a specific section of the file a document is already in or a different file entirely. A little maintenance on a regular basis can go a long way, especially if you receive an unexpected request for documentation, whether from a former employee, an attorney, or the state or federal Department of Labor.
All OSHA-covered employers (those not on this list) with 250 or more employees, and those in certain high-risk industries with 20-249 employees, must electronically report their Calendar Year 2018 Form 300A data by March 2, 2019. Reporting must be done through the online Injury Tracking Application (ITA).
Employers who miss the deadline should file as soon as possible.
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