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Ghosting at work: As labour shortage persists, employers lament increasing no-shows

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WATCH: Businesses in Canada worried about rise of 'ghosting' job candidates – Nov 5, 2021

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Court Desautels had had a few job candidates ghost a job interview. But it was a very rare occurrence, with around 10 per cent of interviews ending up in a no-show, says Desautels, CEO of the Neighbourhood Group of Companies, which operates four restaurants in Guelph and Kitchener, Ont.

Now, though, the share of workers who will ditch the interview without notice is “easily up to least 30 per cent,” he says.

Speaking from Bar’kada, which serves tapas-like dishes in Toronto’s trendy Queen Street West, owner Jordan Rulloda says he’s locked in a constant cycle of hiring and training.

Read more: There are plenty of jobs out there. Why aren’t Canadians filling them?

“We could get, say, 10 interviews confirmed via either email or phone and then two show up and then the ones that do come on board. Sometimes they come, maybe do one shift and then they’re gone,” says Rulloda, who also owns two other restaurants in Schomberg, Ont.

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Workplace “ghosting,” where job candidates and new hires vanish without so much as a call or email, is the latest manifestation of the idiosyncratic labour market that has emerged as the Canadian economy recovers from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s definitely a candidate’s market,” says Travis O’Rourke, president of Hays Canada, a recruiting agency.

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Freeland announces new COVID-19 financial supports as current ones set to expire Oct. 23 – Oct 21, 2021

Between April and June, the number of job vacancies in Canada hit a record 731,900, up 25 per cent from the same period two years earlier, before the pandemic, according to Statistics Canada.

The economy added 31,000 jobs in October, broadly in line with analysts’ expectations, bringing the national unemployment rate to a pandemic-era low of 6.7 per cent.

Read more: Canadian economy adds 31K jobs in October bringing unemployment to pandemic-era low

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With many companies competing for a limited pool of candidates, job seekers can afford to drop an employer without much fanfare if something better comes along, O’Rourke says.

“Have you ever been to the grocery store and you grabbed a head of lettuce and you’re pushing your cart along the store and then you realize, ‘wow, the organic head of lettuce is actually cheaper.’ Not many people go back to that first booth to put the first head back,” he says.

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Similarly, job candidates aren’t taking the time to inform managers that they’ve moved on to another opportunity, according to O’Rourke.

It’s a similar picture south of the border, where job openings are now 50 per cent above pre-pandemic levels, says Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter, which operates in both the U.S. and Canada.

“If you look at chat forums like Reddit, you’ll see very funny posts where people say things like, ‘Hey, I got a new job last week. And before I could even start, I got a raise or I got an offer, and then I got a better offer the next day,'” she says. “And that’s why people are ghosting because they are getting better opportunities.”

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Not every employer is struggling with this issue, though, she adds. No-shows are much less of a problem for higher-paying jobs.

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Canada’s job seekers may have upper hand amid labour squeeze – Sep 10, 2021

And companies looking to hire for fully remote positions usually have their pick of top candidates to choose from, she adds.

The ghosting phenomenon is mostly affecting lower-paid jobs in service-sector industries that have been hit hard by layoffs in the early stages of the pandemic only to see consumer demand bounce back quickly, Pollak says.

As consumers in North America and Europe got stuck at home in the first wave of the pandemic in 2020, spending on services like restaurants and gym subscriptions shifted to durable goods like gear for baking at hime and dumbbells for working in the living room.

Read more: ‘Discouraged’: Despite labour shortage, it’s tough to get a job if you’re 55 or older

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In trucking and warehousing, for example, employers are struggling to keep up with that surge in demand while also coping with a labour shortage, Pollak says.

“Those are the industries where the number of openings has just skyrocketed and where employers are desperate for candidates and where candidates hold all the cards,” she says.

More than 50 per cent of the job seekers on ZipRecruiter would like to find a job that allows them to work from home 100 per cent of the time, a huge increase from pre-pandemic times, according to Pollak. But currently, only around 10 per cent of jobs available through the platform offer that opportunity.

“There’s quite a lot of competition between candidates for those very flexible remote jobs,” she says.

There is no question, though, that ghosting remains widespread in the hospitality and restaurant industries, experts say.

Frequent no-shows have become an additional cost of doing business that’s further squeezing restaurants’ margins, Desautels says.

“We’re getting it from all ends right now,” he says. “Not only is (the cost of) labour going up, our cost of goods are going up. So our time is incredibly valuable right now,” he says.

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And screening candidates who don’t show up is a significant waste of resources and time, he adds.

Rulloda says an inability to find and retain new hires is one of the reasons Bar’kada still isn’t open seven days a week.

“There is still a shortage on staff in general,” he says.

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Canadian employers struggle to find workers amid pandemic labour shortage – Sep 2, 2021

Even in a tight labour market, ghosting is a risky practice, O’Rourke says.

Almost all employers these days use application tracking systems, he notes. A no-show will likely result in a permanent red flag on a candidate’s file.

And standing up a hiring manager also alienates someone who may in the future be in a position of making staffing decisions at a different company, O’Rourke warns.

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But there are ways in which companies can minimize incidents of ghosting, he says.

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He recommends employers use a salary guide to make sure pay is competitive and learn as much as possible about a candidate’s scheduling needs and potential work-life challenges.

“With COVID and kids in school, you can wake up in the morning and all of a sudden your kid has a cough and you need to stay home,” he says.

Employers who are flexible and have back-up plans will fare better in the current environment, he says.

Desautels, who says his company offers competitive pay and health benefits, believes the labour shortage is forcing the restaurant industry to take a hard look at its compensation model.

“It’s just a great awakening to see what some of the shortfalls that might be in the industry,” he says.

And in general, prompt and courteous communication is good practice for hiring managers too, Pollak notes.

“Employers don’t always contact every single candidate they interviewed and tell them (they) didn’t get the job,” she says. “Most of the time … the candidate sits in the dark thinking that they’ve sent their resume into a black hole.”

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On the other hand, job-seekers who have a positive experience with the hiring process are more likely to apply with a company again, even if they didn’t get the job the first time, she says.

Not burning bridges is a good idea for both candidates and employers, she adds.

Often, though, neither has much of an economic incentive to make that extra effort, she says.

“And so we’ll see bad behaviour.”

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