You hired 120 lifeguards and 115 showed up for work.
The no-shows aren’t answering your calls or responding to your emails. No explanation given. Just poof – they’re gone.
You’ve been ghosted.
That’s the word employers are using to describe what some say is a growing practice among jobseekers. They accept an offer only to mysteriously bail.
The trend is playing out across lower-wage service industries, but it’s hitting aquatics particularly hard. Lifeguards are hard enough to find. Now they’re flaking out.
“I think it’s been increasing a bit here and there,” said Nick Cuevas, aquatics coordinator at the City of Newark, Calif., which hires about 90 lifeguards each season and 50 operations staff.
He can count on five to quit without any advance notice.
“They disappear,” Cuevas said. “They truly ghost.”
New recruits aren’t the only ones performing vanishing acts. Employers say returning staff members who’ve proven dependable in the past will suddenly jump ship without so much as a text message to their supervisors.
“It happens with first-year guards all the way up to veteran staff who have been around for years. No response -- just gone,” said Traci Tenkely, aquatic coordinator with the City of Chandler, Ariz. “I sometimes wonder if they just feel guilty about saying they want to resign after being with us for so long, but whatever the reason, it's just weird.”
Ghosting seems to be a symptom of the economy. The unemployment rate fell to an 18-year low. Competition for talent is fierce. Recruiters tell of losing lifeguards to neighboring facilities that pay just 25 cents an hour more. Plus jobs outside of the industry that do not require extensive training and expensive certifications are luring would-be lifeguards away.
The time and money it takes to interview and go through the initial hiring stages is not insignificant. That’s why some will go so far as to contact unresponsive recruits through social media as a last-ditch effort.
“Out of 300 temporary staff, most are pretty good. Then a few act confused when you finally get a hold of them that they were supposed to return a phone call, email, text message and sometimes even a [Facebook] message if we are really stalking them,” Tenkely said.
There’s little that can be done about ghosting. Employers can’t penalize new hires for reneging. Instead, some incentivize them to stay the course by offering to pay for their certifications. That’s how the City of Newark does it. Cuevas says new lifeguards pay out of pocket to become certified, but they’ll be refunded after they work a certain number of hours.
Others say they over-hire, anticipating that a handful will not follow through.
Traci Farris, recreation manager at the Cosumnes Community Services District serving Elk Grove and Galt, Calif., considers herself lucky that she hasn’t encountered any lifeguards who’ve gone incommunicado. She’s had a few who’ve backed out, “but they were kind enough to let us know."
The office staff is a different story. Job offers for administrative roles have been rescinded. This confounds Farris.
“It’s an excellent workplace and treats all its staff well,” she said. “They’d be silly to ghost us.”