Managing Your Practice

Exorcising your ghosts


The COVID-19 pandemic has affected private medical practices on so many levels, not least of which is the loss of employees to illness, fear of illness, early retirement, and other reasons. With so many practices forced to hire replacements, basically at the same time, it’s not surprising to see a significant and frustrating increase in ghosting.

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If you’re not hip to the slang, “ghosting” is the situation in which an employee disappears without any warning, notice, or explanation. It usually occurs after a candidate accepts a job offer, and you schedule their first day of work. That day dawns, but the new hire never arrives. Less commonly, an employee who has been with you for some time simply stops showing up and cannot be contacted.

Many employers think of ghosting as a relatively new phenomenon, and blame it on the irresponsibility of younger age groups – millennials, in particular. In fact, it has been an issue for many years across all age groups, and employers often share more of the responsibility than they think.

While total prevention is impossible, there are steps you can take as an employer to minimize ghosting in your practice.

  • Your hiring process needs to be efficient. If you wait too long to schedule an interview with a promising candidate or to offer them the job, another job offer could lure them away. At the very least, a lengthy process or a lack of transparency may make the applicant apprehensive about accepting a job with you, particularly if other employers are pursuing them.
  • Keep applicants in the loop. Follow up with every candidate; let them know where they are in your hiring process. Applicants who have no clue whether they have a shot at the job are going to start looking elsewhere. And make sure they know the job description and starting salary from the outset.
  • Talk to new hires before their first day. Contact them personally to see if they have any questions or concerns, and let them know that you’re looking forward to their arrival.
  • Once they start, make them feel welcome. An employee’s first few days on the job set the tone for the rest of the employment relationship. During this time, clearly communicate what the employee can expect from you and what you expect from them. Take time to discuss key issues, such as work schedules, timekeeping practices, how performance is measured, and dress codes. Introduce them to coworkers, and get them started shadowing more experienced staff members.
  • Take a hard look at your supervision and your supervisors. Business people like to say that employees don’t quit their job, they quit their boss. If an employee quits – with or without notice – it may very well be because of a poor working relationship with you or the supervisor. To be effective, you and your supervisors need to be diligent in setting goals, managing performance, and applying workplace rules and policies. Numerous third-party companies provide training and guidance in these areas when needed.
  • Recognize and reward. As I’ve written many times, positive feedback is a simple, low-cost way to improve employee retention. It demonstrates that you value an employee’s contributions and sets an excellent example for other employees. Effective recognition can come from anyone – including patients – and should be given openly. (Another old adage: “Praise publicly, criticize privately.”) It never hurts to catch an employee doing something right and acknowledge it.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions. If a new hire or employee is absent without notice, don’t just assume you’ve been ghosted. There may be extenuating circumstances, such as an emergency or illness. In some states, an employee’s absence is protected under a law where the employee may not be required to provide advance notice, and taking adverse action could violate these laws. Establish procedures for attempting to contact absent employees, and make sure you’re complying with all applicable leave laws before taking any action.
Dr. Joseph S. Eastern, a dermatologist in Belleville, N.J.

Dr. Joseph S. Eastern

If an employee does abandon their job, think before you act. Comply with all applicable laws. Act consistently with how you’ve handled similar situations in the past. Your attorney should be involved, especially if the decision involves termination. Notify the employee in writing. As with all employment decisions, keep adequate documentation in case the decision is ever challenged, or you need it to support future disciplinary decisions.

Dr. Eastern practices dermatology and dermatologic surgery in Belleville, N.J. He is the author of numerous articles and textbook chapters, and is a longtime monthly columnist for Dermatology News. He has no disclosures related to this column. Write to him at [email protected].

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