Totally ghosted

Once upon a time we called it the Irish Exit; now people are doing it at work. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

Note from Bill: A few readers have asked: Hey, when’s Kate going to write an installment again? OK, here’s Kate!

Don’t forget to return your keys

Confession time: I never really quit my first job out of university.

Not formally, at least.

Instead, three and a half months in, after having been driven to the edge of serious despair by a toxic combination of graft, overwork, paperwork, and indifference, I woke up and channeled my inner Peter Gibbons (Office Space reference), saying to myself:

“I don’t like my job and I don’t think I’m gonna go anymore.”

So I did it. I stopped going. No more TPS reports. No more doing the work of four senior administrators at a failing government contractor while said senior staff bragged about their Corvettes and planes. No more realizing that this wasn’t how an office job was supposed to function.

I just…wouldn’t go.

Three days later, I wrote a resignation letter, folded my key inside, and mailed it to my now-former employers.

I’m not sure I ever got my last paycheck.

It turns out I may have been a bit ahead of my time. While “ghosting”—disappearing without a word—has been the scourge of the dating scene for a while, it’s happening more and more often in a business context now, too.

A survey by the job board company, Indeed, says that up to 77% of current job seekers have been ghosted by a potential employer. Basically, they start the interview process and just never hear back one way or another.

On the flip side, 28% of job seekers admit to ghosting potential employers: dropping out of an employment process while they were still active candidates, without an explanation.

The trend dates back further than the crazy COVID-era employment market. In 2018, the Associated Press asked: “Is ghosting the new quitting?” And The Guardian newspaper posed a question that hit closer to home: “Is it ever OK to ghost your job—to leave work one day and never go back?”

Time for self-reflection: Why did I do it? Beyond that, now that I’m a bit older, and an occupational psychologist, I find myself reexamining: Why would anyone just not show up to work without even a word?

I suspect it’s about anxiety and burnout: If you’re leaving a job because you’re stressed to the brink, you don’t want to also deal with the awkwardness of handing over a resignation letter and going through an exit interview.

It may also have a good bit to do with Millennial and Gen Z cultural standards: Contrary to popular belief, we’re not great at confrontation. Passive aggression is far more common. We don’t—speaking for my generation here—want to upset people or hurt their feelings, and we want to take all sides of a situation into account.

Also, there’s the lack of respect in some positions, especially in the gig economy: If you can be demoted or fired by text or automated app message, why bother giving notice? If your employer treats you as disposable, why return any courtesy? Just walk away.

Of course, the flip side of this means that gestures that used to be standard practice, like helping train your replacement or, in the hiring process, sending a thank you or follow-up note, are often now be seen as going above and beyond.

And for job-seekers, even getting a rejection note can be slightly astonishing, since so often your application seems to go into a black hole.

With more aspects of hiring, firing, and staff management being turned over to algorithms, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more workers, especially in hospitality and service jobs, just shuffle themselves between positions without formally quitting.

Just remember to mail back your keys.

Call for comments: What’s your best “ghosting story?” And were you the “ghoster,” or the “ghostee?”

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Also—Bill here again—I want to say a big THANK YOU for all the great comments we had on Friday’s “Say This, Not That” discussion. I recommend checking it out here if you haven’t, and please—if you’ve thought of more examples, or if you just didn’t see Friday’s until now, chime in. I think the new ebook will be a great project.


7 other things worth your time


Thanks for reading, as always. Photo credit: Pixabay. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.