Time to call the ghostbusters

Ghosting at work is a slippery slope to a culture of avoidance. Get a grip on the problem in three steps, says Shreena Patel

We’ve all been there.

You receive an e-mail from a colleague asking for an update on that thing you’d discussed. You knew it was only a matter of time, but you still feel caught out because there is either nothing new – or nothing good – to report. So, you do the professional thing and ignore it. Then you spend the next few days giving an almost military-grade masterclass in how to go ‘off-grid’: screening their calls, dodging them in the lifts, straying dangerously close to severe dehydration as you avoid the communal kitchen.

If you’ve ever used a dating app, chances are this kind of behaviour will sound strangely familiar. It’s known as ‘ghosting’ in the dating world – but it’s existed in offices for years and, as well as causing dehydration, it carries other adverse side effects.

The mistake is to assume that by not communicating, we are not saying anything. In fact, what we are saying, loud and clear, is that we have better things to do. Not great for the relationship. As our ghosting habit develops and we send this message to more and more people our personal brand suffers, and, if enough colleagues reciprocate, it can eventually start to impact the wider organisational culture too – not to mention external perceptions as we start to treat other professional acquaintances in the same way.

The fact that many of us are still working from home, almost eliminating the risk of face-to-face encounters with those we ghost, has only made this problem worse. To avoid a culture of avoidance and procrastination, companies and colleagues need to act. Here are our top tips:

  1. Learn to do video conferencing (VC) well and make it a part of your business culture. With the cameras on. Remote working is here to stay to some degree but face-to-face communication still matters – don’t just communicate through e-mail or audio calls. Doing VC well is a skill, so consider investing in training for your teams.
  2. Share stories to remind colleagues that there is a human being sitting behind every laptop. Real people are much harder to ignore than e-mails and generic business titles. Regular newsletters, campaigns or even user-generated content – if done well – will help to foster a sense of culture and team spirit.
  3. Set an example from the top. Make sure leadership is engaging in conversation with people across the business through regular communications, written or filmed. This is especially important in the current environment, and it means preparing them to handle difficult questions and different media channels.

Remember, you’re communicating – even when you’re not. So make sure you’re sending the right message.

After all, everyone knows that ghosts come back to haunt.

If you need help with getting the most out of VC, creating great content or coaching your leadership team, get in touch.

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Shreena Patel

Associate Director, Critical Issues

Shreena focuses on a range of strategic positioning, narrative and development projects.

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