In a representation of ghosting in the workplace a ghost that appears to be a business person sits at a computer, working.
Image: © Andrey Popov/

The shape-shifting ghosts haunting the world of employment

20 Jun 2024

Ghosting is a disturbingly common topic in the conversation around employment, but did you know it isn’t just prospective job applicants who are subject to this mean-spirited form of workplace unprofessionalism?

The origins of the word ghosting, in reference to ending a personal or professional relationship by cutting off all forms of contact, are disputed, however, most will agree that it dates back to the early 2000s. 

For roughly two decades ghosting has been an accepted and even expected aspect of our professional lives, becoming synonymous with the job application process, where we firmly believed we either had the role, or had a real chance, only to never hear from the ‘enthusiastic’ employer ever again. 

When we hear the term ghosting, it’s fair to say most of us immediately think of the above scenario, but ghosting doesn’t just affect jobseekers. In fact, it has insidiously wormed its way into the very core of employment, making everyday, standard processes much more difficult for a range of professionals.

Let’s take a look at some of the other forms of ghosting and the impact they have on day-to-day work. 

Outside forces

Anyone who is in a job that requires a degree of input from outside sources will tell you of the frustration that sometimes comes with it. There is an equilibrium to reaching deadlines, hitting targets and meeting larger expectations, that is very easily thrown off balance by disruptions to time, such as ghosting from external forces. 

Picture the scenario. You are working diligently on a project, the work on your end has been scheduled and completed, all that is required now is the final input from an individual outside of your organisation. You planned ahead, but still you are waiting. 

To make matters worse, if you are a freelancer in your industry or work independently of a team, there may not be an opportunity to have your issues addressed further up the chain of command, or to brainstorm with co-workers about alternative steps, should your contact fail to communicate with you. 

It may be tempting in the heat of the moment to send an angry email, detailing how your time has been wasted, but this is never going to be the right move. What you can do is write a professional email, acknowledge that you have a deadline you are aiming to meet and make an offer to assist in a way that could expedite the process.

You may well be met with stony silence, or indeed an excuse as to the delay that doesn’t curb your frustrations, but it’s usually best to take people at their word, thank them for their time and, if needs be, remove them as a future professional contact.

It is important not to overly criticise yourself. You can’t control other people’s actions and it is unfair to take on the burden and anxiety of other people’s responsibilities. 

Silence of the co-workers

A less commonly discussed issue within the ghosting conversation is its prevalence among employees working at the same company. Some organisations may have small teams of less than 50 people, so it is easier to keep track of internal communications.

This is not the case for larger companies that employ hundreds, even thousands of people. You could be one of the millions of people worldwide who work remotely and whose connection to their place of work depends almost entirely on robust internal communication channels.

When you find your efforts to engage with a co-worker, via the usual methods, have broken down, it can be difficult to navigate company bureaucracy. On one hand you may not want to cause unnecessary strife, but on the other, your own work is being impeded, potentially putting the security of your job at risk. 

Luckily, there are a few ways to address the issue of a ghosting co-worker. A good place to start is with the colleague in question. It can be useful to ask yourself why someone might be behaving this way and if the shoe was on the other foot, how would you like it to be addressed?

An open conversation with the co-worker, wherein you reach a consensus on what has happened and how to avoid conflict going forward, could be all that is needed to smooth things over. The issue could be as simple as your colleague having been away for a few days, or your correspondence getting lost or buried somehow. 

Workplace dynamics are complex, whether you are in an office or not, so it can be beneficial to step back for a moment and ensure that you are comfortable with your next steps. 

Ghostly revenge

In the last number of years there has been a twist in the tale when it comes to ghosting. The old narrative of the job applicant being ignored by recruiters is still very much an issue, but recently the world of work has seen an emergence in the ghosting of recruiters and employers, by candidates and even current employees. 

While it can be tempting to turn the tables and ghost an organisation because you feel you are giving as good as you got, arguably, ghosting may not benefit you and could even harm your career in the future. 

A recent survey from the Thriving Center of Psychology found that one-in-four respondents admitted to ghosting their employer by simply leaving, with zero notice or explanation. There is every likelihood that the employees in question were right to give up their jobs and look for a better fit, but it is worth noting that past behaviours could resurface, jeopardising future career opportunities. 

There is a lot to be said for leaving a company on good terms, as you never know who you will cross paths with down the line. So put your best foot forward and don’t let the ghosts of the past dictate the future.

Find out how emerging tech trends are transforming tomorrow with our new podcast, Future Human: The Series. Listen now on Spotify, on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Laura Varley
By Laura Varley

Laura Varley is a Careers reporter at Silicon Republic. She has a background in technology PR and journalism and is borderline obsessed with film and television, the theatre, Marvel and Mayo GAA. She is currently trying to learn how to knit.

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