It could be argued that there has never been a better time to communicate than now.
If the COVID-19 pandemic had arrived before high-speed internet and smartphones, it would have been hard for many to work from home. There is plenty of hardware and software available now to get things done.
Still, connectivity does not always make it easier for people to say what needs to be said. Phone calls are not returned. Messages go unanswered. Emails pile up incessantly. A generation that grew up with electronic immediacy – never having to wait for minutes as a page loads on Netscape Navigator – has trouble when the answers it seeks do not arrive swiftly.
For the past few years, the term “ghosting” has been used to refer to people who abruptly end communication with someone without explanation. When Research Co. and Glacier Media asked Canadians earlier this month, practically four in five (79 per cent) were familiar with the term, including 91 per cent of those aged 18 to 34.
Canadians are divided on whether simply ignoring others is justified. Similar proportions believe that “ghosting” is never appropriate (42 per cent) or sometimes appropriate (44 per cent). Only two per cent believe the practice is always appropriate, a proportion that rises to five per cent in British Columbia.
We may not agree on how we feel about the concept from a philosophical standpoint, but many have experienced it. More than half of Canadians (55 per cent) have been “ghosted” at some point for a wide range of reasons.
As expected, most of the “ghosting” we endure is not work-related: About a third of Canadians (32 per cent) have lost communication with a friend, about one in four (23 per cent) have not been able to contact a person they went out with and just under one in five (17 per cent) have been “ghosted” by a relative.
Many have also been on the other side. More than two in five Canadians (45 per cent) have “ghosted” someone, mostly friends (25 per cent), people they went out with (21 per cent) or relatives (13 per cent).
The corporate world is not immune to what appears to be an inability to speak truthfully. Canadians have been “ghosted” by a person they talked to during a job interview or hiring process (15 per cent), a person they had a telephone conversation with for work-related purposes (nine per cent) and a prospective client who sought information about their business (eight per cent).
At a time of low unemployment rates and increased propensity for job switching, it is important to look at how businesses and people behave.
The three types of corporate communication where Canadians have been “ghosted” are very different from the nuisance of unsolicited cold calls or emails. Each of the instances we tested was preceded by an interpersonal connection: A job interview, a telephone chat about work or a request for more information. Decisions were ultimately made, but an individual was left wondering what went wrong and how.
There is also an impressive generational gap. While more than a quarter of Canadians aged 18 to 34 (27 per cent) say they were “ghosted” by somebody they dealt with during a hiring process, the proportion falls to 14 per cent among those aged 35 to 54 and to just five per cent among those aged 55 and over.
Young Canadians are significantly more likely to say they were “ghosted” when seeking employment. Older adults might be more used to the “don’t call us, we’ll call you” attitude from human resources departments, while Millennials are expecting at least an email where the company clearly states that it has gone in a different direction.
Finally, most Canadians would prefer to be told the truth after a date (64 per cent), when looking for a job (63 per cent) and during work-related situations (73 per cent) than to be “ghosted.” It is interesting to see that there is practically no difference in the way Canadians feel about not being able to know why phone calls and messages are not being returned, whether they are made to a love interest or a possible employer. Most of us want to know what we did – whether at the dinner table or inside the interview room – that turned us from attractive to repellent.
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.
Results are based on an online study conducted from July 20 to July 22, 2023, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error – which measures sample variability – is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.