Many of us have faced excruciating silence while waiting to hear back from a prospective employer, only to wind up hearing nothing at all.
But now, the tables could be turning as more and more job applicants leave hopeful employers in the lurch.
New research from recruitment firm Randstad US suggests that as many as two-thirds (66 percent) of U.S. managers have been snubbed by candidates who initially accepted a job offer, only to retract it — or disappear entirely — ahead of their start date. That practice was dubbed "ghosting" after gaining notoriety in the realm of online dating.
And it's not just senior employees who are calling the shots. In fact, younger staff are leading the charge.
According to Randstad's study of 1,202 U.S. managers and employees, more than a third (43 percent) of Gen Z employees — those aged 22 and under — say they've accepted a job but then bailed on the offer. That figure dips to 26 percent for millennials (those aged 23-38) and Gen X-ers (those aged 39-54). For baby boomers — or those between the age of 55 and 74, it falls to 13 percent.
Ghosting has been rife among employers for decades, with hiring managers arguing they lack the resources, or indeed the responsibility, to provide all job applicants with a definitive response following their interviews.
However, thanks to a historically low unemployment rate in the U.S., experts say that for the first time in decades, power is in the hands of employees to dismiss employers when a better opportunity arises.
"Unemployment is at its lowest rate in decades, so employees know they are in demand and have more options," Jim Link, chief human resources officer for Randstad North America told CNBC Make It.
That also puts employees in a better position to renegotiate conditions with their current employer, Link said, noting an uptick in counteroffer discussions.
The phantom phenomenon is not unique to the U.S. Commentators have also observed the trend in Canada and the U.K., which have both enjoyed lower unemployment rates in recent years.
In Asia, it has grown more common in developed markets like Singapore and Hong Kong, where basic income needs are typically met and workers are prioritizing job satisfaction, Randstad's managing director for Singapore, Jaya Dass, told CNBC Make It.
A lack of respect?
Improved employee prospects tell only part of the story though. Some commentators have argued that the surge in employee ghosting shows a lack of respect among younger workers.
"I never did something so disrespectful at that age and doubt I ever will," London health store worker Avril Coelho told the FT last year.
Meanwhile others say that the apparent ruthlessness in the younger generations is "predictable" given that they have less financial and familial responsibilities compared to older generations.
"This 'ghosting' by Gen Zs feels like predictable behavior for somebody who is young and most likely does not have responsibilities of family, mortgage, or other financial commitments. While a millennial, X, or boomer might want to pass on a job, they are more incentivized to take it," Molly Logan, co-founder of Gen Z-led think tank Irregular Labs told CNBC Make It.
"If (Gen Z) accept a job and a better opportunity presents itself (job or otherwise), they will drop you, no question about it," she continued.
We are seeing this behavior in workers of all ages, not just younger ones.Jim Linkchief human resources officer for Randstad North America
Logan was keen to point out that Randstad's study only takes into account Gen Zs of working age, rather than all those aged 13+. However, with technology playing a bigger role in workplace communication, increasing anonymity and reducing culpability, experts say they expect the trend to continue to permeate across generations.
"We are seeing this behavior in workers of all ages, not just younger ones," said Randstad's Link. "Technology is changing the nature of employment rapidly, which means workers across many generations are abandoning traditional career paths and expectations about what it means to be an employee. That includes their behavior around accepting jobs."
Employers could preempt that trend, Link said, by ensuring they have a robust onboarding process that keeps employees engaged and informed right until the end of the recruitment process.
"Our survey found nearly a third (30 percent) of organizations today don't have any formal pre-boarding processes in place," he noted, highlighting steps such as connecting new hires with future colleagues and initiating a welcome meeting.
"Steps like these not only help reduce any anxiety new hires might have about starting a new job, but also show them an environment where they'll be valued awaits them," Link added.
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