Captain Dave Johnson in the new Greene County Jail. The jail is still seeking applicants to fill its many open roles within the new facility. (Photo by Bruce Stidham)

People caught in the web of Springfield’s robust online or app-based dating scenes aren’t the only ones getting stood up and jilted. It’s happening to employers, including the government of Greene County.

“Ghosting” is the popular way to describe what happens when two or more parties arrange a meeting, and then one of the key persons involved doesn’t show up, doesn’t cancel the plans before the meeting, and doesn’t return calls, text messages or emails. They vanish like a ghost, without an explanation for the people they left behind.

Summary

As Greene County looks to hire about 50 detention officers to work in a new jail, some qualified applicants simply aren’t showing up for job interviews. “Ghosting” job interviews is a challenge for employers across many sectors of southwest Missouri.

“Ghosting” is a phenomenon known well among people navigating the slings and arrows of starting romantic relationships in 2022, but in a job market where unemployment is low and many employers are competing for candidates, ghosting has moved from the realm of socialization and dating to the professional sector.

Mailyn Jeffries, human resources director for Greene County, briefed the Greene County Commission on their challenges with growing staff sizes across all departments. On March 22, Jeffries confirmed that job applicants are agreeing to come for interviews, and then ghosting the department heads who would otherwise want to hire them.

Since Jan. 1, Greene County received 120 applications for detention officer positions in the new Greene County Jail. In early March, Sheriff Jim Arnott said he would need about 50 more detention officers to fully staff the jail by the end of April.

Abandoning job interviews

People aren’t just applying for jobs in the jail. Jeffries said Greene County has received 594 employment applications across all departments in 2022. However, the number of applicants ghosting on in-person job interviews is also a growing problem.

“It’s a very interesting trend that we’re seeing,” Jeffries said. “It’s just a problem that our whole community is facing.”

People who end up interviewing but declining job offers have provided some insight into ghosting.

“Do you receive feedback from any that don’t get hired on why they are going elsewhere? Is it pay? Is it something else,” District 2 Commissioner John C. Russell asked.

“When we are interviewing candidates, a lot of times they are telling us during these interviews that they have opportunities at other places. I am sure a lot of it is pay,” Jeffries said.

Why care?

The Springfield metropolitan area is the fastest-growing metro in the state of Missouri and is growing at a rate of about twice the national average, according to the Springfield Regional Economic Partnership. When it comes to workforce participation, the Springfield metropolitan area is below average, making it tough for employers to fill open positions they believe they need to grow their businesses.

Employers need to act fast

Greene County’s hiring managers are also being asked to make haste when it comes to hiring new employees.

“We are encouraging our hiring managers to take action and move much faster than we have in the past. Maybe (candidates) are just accepting other employment because they got that job offer first,” Jeffries said.

A job interview, a handshake and hiring date don’t necessarily equate to the end of the story anymore. In addition to ghosting, another trend is emerging: employees who go to work somewhere else for higher wages after starting their job with the Greene County government.

“We get new hires in, they’ve gone through their onboarding process, we’re prepared for them to start, and then they contact their hiring manager and let them know that they won’t actually be starting employment here because they probably obtained employment elsewhere,” Jeffries said.

Greene County started an employee referral program that offers incentives to existing employees who refer quality candidates to fill open positions. So far, Jeffries says employees are responding well to the incentive program and are generating leads that lead to hires.

“We just hit about 50 referrals that we’ve received from employees, so I think that’s great, and the majority of the referrals we receive — those candidates do get hired here at the county, so they are talent that we’re actually bringing in,” Jeffries said.

Problem not unique to the county

The Momentum State of the Workforce survey is an annual project by Opinion Research Specialists through the Missouri Job Center in Springfield. It’s an online survey of organizations in seven counties in southwest Missouri. It was conducted from November 2021 to February 2022, and represents the thoughts and feelings of 244 employers in the Springfield metropolitan area.

Employers’ dissatisfaction with finding qualified applicants reached an all-time high, with 90 percent of the survey respondents from Greene County reporting that they had difficulty hiring qualified applicants in 2021. 

“Lack of qualified applicants” is the No. 1 difficulty that employers reported, with a rate of 80 percent. Applicants failing to show up for job interviews was the No. 2 difficulty, with 64 percent.

Sally Payne, Springfield’s Director of Workforce Development, explained that ghosting by job applicants proved to be a hot topic of conversation across employment sectors in the Momentum survey during a debriefing event on March 10.

“Ghosting is still happening right now. You wouldn’t think it, but it is,” Payne said. “When you only have five applicants that apply, and then they ghost you, your applicant pool has basically gone down to nothing.”

Employers pointed to applicants lacking relevant work experience and “Applicants unwilling to accept offered wages,” as critical reasons why they have difficulty hiring people to fill job openings. The wage issue came up for 48 percent of the southwest Missouri companies in the Momentum survey.

The wage demand is likely tied to some of the applicant ghosting taking place in public and private sector jobs.

“A challenge for employers is the wage demand and the wage pressure that’s being put on them. So, you know, frankly, right now you might see some people jumping to other organizations for 50 cents an hour, a dollar,” Payne said.

Fifty-one percent of the employers in the survey reported that they tried to increase wages in response to hiring difficulties. The report states that 56 percent of the companies surveyed responded to hiring difficulties by paying overtime to skilled workers already in their company, upping their wages while also upping the demand placed on the workers.

Almost half of the respondents, 49 percent, balked and opted not to hire anyone for open positions because of difficulty they encountered trying to fill the roles.

Rance Burger

Rance Burger covers local government for the Daily Citizen. His goal is to help people know more about what projects their government is involved in, and how their tax dollars are being spent. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at rburger@sgfcitizen.org or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger