What Hospitality Managers Can Do About Ghosting

The hospitality industry is particularly vulnerable to disappearing employees

By Holly Rosenkrantz March 17, 2020
What Hospitality Managers Can Do About Ghosting

​Juliann Francis, owner of a food truck and bakery business called Captain Cookie & the Milkman, hires and manages with the philosophy that more work on the front end leads to less work on the back end. So, when a well-screened new hire disappeared, Francis was perplexed about what went wrong in her meticulous hiring process.

"This great hire suddenly didn't show up for a week," she said. "We were actually pretty concerned about this person's well-being, and we reached out to the emergency contacts. When we finally heard back [from the employee], we never got a satisfactory answer. There was no explanation. It was just, 'I'm not interested in continuing.' "

With the help of a consultant, Francis discovered at least one flaw in her hiring practices.

"We were saying we wanted workers with flexibility," she said. "We thought that meant we could set flexible schedules depending on our need. [Employees] thought it meant they could set their own flexible schedule. It was a disconnect."

That disconnect between what workers want and what managers need can lead to a workplace phenomenon common in the hospitality industry. It's called "ghosting": A worker or new hire suddenly ends all communication without an explanation. Job candidates drop out of the hiring process, fail to show for interviews or even accept job offers but then never show up for work. Or existing employees suddenly stop coming to work and never offer an explanation.

This has a real cost for organizations, said Brian Kropp, group vice president of the HR practice at research and advisory firm Gartner in Arlington, Va.

Experts tend to conclude that the ghosting trend is being driven by a labor market with more job openings than unemployed workers. It is typically seen in lower-wage, high-volume hourly roles such as retail and hospitality. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall quit rate in the U.S. is 2.3 percent per month, but, for the leisure and hospitality industry, it was 4.5 percent in December.

Casinos and restaurants have seen a ghosting rate as high as 50 percent, said Will Staney, the founder of Proactive Talent, an Austin, Texas-based recruiting and consulting firm.

Strio Consulting Chief People Officer Robin Schooling, who used to be vice president of human resources at Hollywood Casino in Baton Rouge, La., said ghosting is now expected in entry-level positions in the gaming industry. "It goes with the territory," she said.

The good news, Kropp said, is that there is a "whole set of things to look for from a management perspective" to avoid hospitality industry ghosting.

First, managers should pay attention to a change in social behavior of employees. If a manager asks everyone to contribute during a meeting, and a particular employee is not, that could be a sign of lagging interest in the job, Kropp said. "Are your employees giving [clues] that they are not really involved?"

In the retail and hospitality industries in particular, Kropp noted, employees often leave in groups. If you are a restaurant owner, odds are that you will see your workers follow one another to a competitor, he said. "You need to pay attention. Are there specific places your employees are moving to?" Similarly, if you are in charge of a hotel cleaning crew, he said, "odds are that they will move together."

There's a larger reason behind the no-show trend. There is a behavioral shift among job seekers and workers, said Steve Browne, SHRM-SCP, vice president of HR at LaRosa's pizzeria and Italian restaurant chain in the Cincinnati area and a member of the Society for Human Resource Management board of directors.

"The traditional thought process of 'I apply for a job, I interview for a job, I get hired and I start the job'—those days are over," he said. "Workers are thinking of themselves as free agents. Candidates owe us nothing. This whole idea of loyalty and professionalism is archaic."

Kropp noted that there tends to be two types of people who ghost in the hospitality industry. Sometimes, it's workers who are seeking a small change in compensation—even as low as 50 cents more an hour. Other times, workers are there for the social connections, and they move to be with their friends.

In both these cases, "it is important to understand what motivates your employees and meet their needs," he said. Do they have the ability to work more shifts from a scheduling perspective? Are there people who work for you that want a job that gives them a lot of flexibility?"

"It is about understanding what motivates people," Kropp said. "If they want flexibility, give them more control over their schedule. If they are there as a career stepping-stone, offer management- or career-development opportunities."

Francis finds it valuable to ask for references from far back in a candidate's work history to see if there's a pattern of ghosting. 

And if a worker demonstrates attendance problems, she said, it may be better to terminate or replace her before she ghosts you and leaves you in the lurch.

"Early attendance problems are a huge red flag," she said. "We can't be afraid to terminate before they have a chance to ghost us."

Holly Rosenkrantz is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.
Roy Maurer, the talent acquisition editor for SHRM Online, contributed to this article.


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