— February 18, 2019
There’s been much discussion recently about job candidates ghosting potential employers, and perhaps even worse, employees ghosting their actual employers. But there’s another longstanding practice that creates disruption and negative feelings: Some managers ghost their own employees.
Managers can be slow to respond to employee requests and other communications for all kinds of legitimate reasons. They may experience the common stresses of inbox and meeting overload, or delay their responses while they’re trying to triage urgent issues. But that’s no excuse for neglecting or ignoring employees.
Unfortunately, some managers actually choose a kind of irresponsible and immature non-response as a way to deal with their own discomfort. They may not know the answer to an employee’s question or how to resolve a problematic situation, so they take the path of least resistance rather than doing the work to figure out the answer. A minority of managers may even feel bothered by or actually dislike an employee, and simply prefer not to interact with them. And some are so conflict-averse that they think disappearing is easier than having to argue for their own conclusions.
How Ghosting Affects Employees
But the distress that employees experience when they’ve been ghosted is as real as it is in the dating world — it just has different manifestations and costs. Many ghosted employees worry that there’s something wrong with them personally, and their work can take a serious hit as well.
- Employees who are waiting for responses and direction can feel frustrated and blocked from taking action on new initiatives as well as from carrying out their normal duties.
- They may fill in the gaps in direction with their own suppositions or make up what they should be doing — and get it all wrong.
- They often complain to other employees, fostering general dissatisfaction and disengagement in and across various work groups.
- The manager who did the ghosting can end up with a bad reputation for being uncaring at best — and for being potentially incompetent and destructive .
Ghosting Hurts Managers Too
In essence, ignoring what’s going on is a demonstration of incompetence for a leader at any level. The whole purpose of management is to accomplish work through the actions of others. If you’re not interacting properly with those others, then, by definition, you’re not managing. It’s hard to be perceived as a leader if you’re known for weakness and waffling. Plus, your execution of initiatives is bound to suffer when missed cues, lack of direction, and avoidance of hard conversations mean that important decisions go unmade or unimplemented.
Luckily, it doesn’t have to be so difficult to encourage your team members to let you know what’s going on and then respond to their concerns promptly. Start by making an agreement with employees that includes reasonable timeframes and commitments for the type of response you’re planning to deliver. That way, you’ll keep yourself accountable and simultaneously your team members in the loop.
Then, stay true to your word by providing new information, decisions, or direction by the established deadline. You don’t have to agree with employees’ concerns or positions — you just have to address the issues they raise. And if, for some reason, there are circumstances that are truly beyond your control — say, because a customer is resistant or there’s a contrary decision from above — at the very least, you can stay in touch with employees by explaining what’s happening and asking them about the impact.
Just as you don’t want to associate yourself with bad dates, you don’t want to deal with frustrated, disengaged employees. So show up, listen up, and speak up, and you’ll put all the ghosts to rest.