Ghosted by candidates: how to stop talent reneging on contracts

In 2022, 'ghosting' of employers by candidates becoming widespread

Ghosted by candidates: how to stop talent reneging on contracts

The practice of jobseekers being “ghosted” by recruiters, HR and hiring organisations is well known. “Ghosting” refers to ending communication with someone abruptly and without explanation including refusing to acknowledge an important request. It might look like failing to reply to an email, answer texts or phone calls or even failing to appear at a scheduled job interview.

And while, the expectation is, that a busy HR team or department might inadvertently neglect to follow up on a candidate, a disturbing new trend is emerging where candidates are now “ghosting” employers and recruiters in greater numbers. Some Australian recruiters report seeing this behaviour happening at record levels over the past year.

Read more: 'Ghosting': The creepy new HR trend

In April this year, Behaviourial Scientist, Nuala Walsh, wrote an article in Psychology Today noting that “ghosting is ‘a decision with hidden consequences’ and ‘people who ghost rarely consider the emotional and commercial damage to themselves and others”. The term “ghosting” initially referred to behaviour around romantic relationships however now it’s becoming more commonplace in business and the workplace.

HRD sat down with Sue Parker, of Dare Group Australia, and asked her to give us her elevator pitch about “ghosting by candidates” and how that looks in practice.  She explained: “Ghosting is lazy, unacceptable and disrespectful. It is a CHOICE. Once the majority domain of recruiters and hiring companies towards candidates the tide has turned. Candidates of all levels are now ghosting at any stage of the recruitment process, but especially at the offer and contract signing stages. Often, they sign and disappear into the ether.”

Sue Parker – CEO of Dare Group Australia

HRD asked whether Parker thought that the abundance of unfilled roles was causing this increase in ghosting by candidates.  She said that: “I think there’s a heightened element of arrogance by in-demand candidates. But it’s always occurred, but at far lesser degrees. When I owned a recruitment agency, I recall many incidences of candidates ghosting overnight.”

So, what is causing this increase in ghosting by candidates. Parker believed it was because of the following:

  • Laziness, convenience and low emotional intelligence (EQ).
  • Conflict avoidance – being fearful of repercussions.
  • Lack of skills in communicating difficult feedback.
  • Apathy or indifference to the feelings of others.
  • Low accountability – and no likelihood of penalty.

HRD asked Parker if she thought that ghosting by candidates had risen because of the unusual situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Parker provided her analysis, and said: “Back in 2020/2021 perhaps that had a very slight impact. But not now in 2022 when we are getting back to normal working lives for most of us. Excuses are just that -excuses. With texting, then emailing being the preferred form of communication, generally, there is generally no excuse not to communicate within a 24-hour time frame. For those who were already likely to use excuses to dodge responsibility, the excuse of COVID is an easy way out. And that excuse covers not just recruiters but any professional interaction and communication.”

And, ghosting by candidates is not something unique to Australian recruitment markets but also being seen in other jurisdictions, such as Canada.

Read more: Candidate ghosting on the rise for Canadian HR leaders

In 2019, an Indeed survey “The Ghosting Guide: An Inside Look at Why Job Seekers Disappear” found that 83% of employers had experienced job applicants disappearing before their starting date. The same survey found that 69% of employers first started to notice the practice of “ghosting” two years earlier.

What can HR do to mitigate this?

There is quite a lot that busy HR professionals can do to mitigate this – starting with the following best-practices:

  • Providing transparency about the role and salary expectations.
  • Offering strong salary packages
  • Tightening up recruitment processes and timeframes
  • Building a stronger, and more inviting candidate experience.

Read more: 'Ghosting': The nightmarish dating trend haunting HR

In addition, if these practical solutions don’t work, there’s also two additional strategies available to HR executives:

  1. The employer can add a clause in the employment contract setting out consequences for either party if the contract is breached, for any reason.
  2. Set out expectations of conduct. For example, where the employer communicates in job advertisements that they are committed to taking good care of candidates and commit to delivering speedy communication, honest processes, and feedback. And that by doing so, they also indicate to the candidates that they expect the same amount of respect in the hiring process.

Parker also gave HRD the following tips for HR Executives trying to reduce “ghosting” by job applicants:

  • “Self-reflect firstly on where you have ghosted candidates and take responsibility and a new commitment to step up.
  • Speed up the entire interview process with greater transparency, feedback loops and treating candidates as clients, not candidates. 
  • Set expectations and communicate values upfront. Demonstrate a holistic EVP strategy from job ads and all social media sending candidates the message that: “We care about integrity of candidate experience and keeping our promises to be transparent and timely. And we expect the same from candidates.
  • Add a (Liquidated Damages) Clause in the Employment Contract, which, once signed, a candidate who doesn’t commence without a fair life reason (such as accepting another offer) will have commercial consequences based on loss.”

For more information on legal remedies available to hiring companies, HRD spoke to Sydney employment lawyer, Kelsey Hunter, about the possible grounds for HR execs to penalise jobseekers who ghosted them.

Kelsey Hunter, Sydney employment lawyer

In terms of a liquidated damages claim, HRD asked whether this would include any of the following:

  • Not showing for an agreed interview (but no contract has been signed). Just a verbal agreement or an email saying that jobseeker would meet with employer on said date.
  • Job candidates failing to show (or show cause why) on first day of work.
  • A job seeker simply quitting without notice.

Kelsey said that the matter is purely contractual – “A breach of contract claim can only be made (and liquidated damages sought) where there is a contract requiring certain behaviours. If there is no legally enforceable contract in place governing someone turning up to an interview, for example, then there is no basis for the claim. An employee agreeing to meet for an interview verbally will not be a legal contract. A contract requires a number of elements, including an intention for the agreement to be legally binding, and valid consideration (that is, both parties 'get' something from the agreement).”

HRD asked Kelsey about whether, in the absence of strict legal penalties, what kinds of clauses apart from liquidated damages, does she suggest that HR executives should build into their engagement contracts to ensure job seekers follow through with their promises. Kelsey told HRD that businesses should develop a recruitment contract with the following types of clauses:

  • a description of the recruitment process;
  • obligations of the business - we will let you know within X days / hours if you are successful at each round; we will provide you with feedback at each stage within X days/hours, regardless of income; we will consider any reasonable adjustments you may require (for example, due to accessibility needs); we will treat you with respect and be professional at all times
  • obligations on the candidate - show up to interviews; let us know within X hours/days if you cannot make it; provide frank feedback; accept the offer only if you will accept the employment
  • general matters - eg, if you have feedback about this process, please contact X. (This may help prevent poor feedback on Glassdoor!)”

Kelsey said that such a contract would need to be simple and be drafted in such a way that it didn’t scare off potential candidates – that it was presented as a “genuine two-way street” for candidates and employers alike, she said.

If the behaviour of ghosting which is becoming more commonplace in our busy, digitally driven societies is it also becoming normalised. HRD asked Parker for her thoughts on the ethics of ghosting. She responded by saying that it’s:

“Absolutely unethical and very poor form. It’s a total disconnect of treating others professionally. There’s no cognition of impact and third-party perspective or guilt. It’s  a form of abuse and is a CHOICE. Much like domestic violence the behaviour is targeted to certain people, not everyone else. It impacts emotionally, financially, physical health, productivity, stress levels and erodes self-esteem and questions judgement and decisions.”

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