Have you ever ghosted a candidate? Now, we’re not talking about white sheets on Halloween and shouting boo! at trick-or-treaters; rather, we’re referring to a scenario where you’ve interviewed a potential employee and then dodged their follow-up calls, emails, and notes like the plague.

Maybe you got cold feet or realized you didn’t have the resources to support a new hire. Perhaps time slipped away because life happens and you genuinely forgot. Regardless of whether you had the best intentions, ghosting a candidate can hurt your small business.

The Origins of Ghosting

With every generation comes a new vernacular — familiar words are given a makeover based on cultural and societal trends. Enter ghosting, the preferred term for abandonment, coined by millennials. When we hear the word ghost, we may think of Casper and haunted houses; however, its new form is a verb that signals an abrupt end to all communication. The New York Times penned an extensive feature on the term back in 2015, in response to how Charlize Theron avoided all communication with Sean Penn as a way of breaking off their relationship.

People ghost to avoid conflict, according to Psychology Today. No one wants to have awkward conversations or be responsible for hurt feelings, so the employer stops all communication with the candidate without explanation, in hopes of dodging discomfort.

Although people have been technically pulling the disappearing act since forever, it’s become even more challenging in today’s tech-dependent world, where we’ve come to expect immediate responses — just like hitting refresh on our Twitter or Facebook feeds. Did you know that 90% of all email replies happen within one to two days of receiving a message? It’s also painful because social media is such a part of our culture that you can actually see the “ghoster” communicating to the world — just not to you. Ouch.

While ghosting has its roots in the relationship lexicon, it’s now being used in professional settings. Even recruiters, who are communication pros, have a hard time saying no, according to Fast Company.

When it comes to your small business, every decision you make and every voicemail you delete could have big consequences. Everyone’s busy, but common courtesy is still in fashion and, if you avoid the tough conversations with prospective hires, the impact could be brutal and long lasting.

Reasons Not to Do It

Here are a few ways that ghosting a candidate can hurt your small business:

Candidates talk, and word-of-mouth can be killer.

Everyone’s a critic, and with a few clicks your business report card is in clear view. A whole crop of employer review sites like Glassdoor, Vault, Great Place To Work, Indeed and TheJobCrowd offer honest takes on everything from the hiring process to how the owners run their business — and employers can no longer ignore them.

With 11 million reviews and 30 million visits a month, according to Forbes, Glassdoor is proof that potential candidates want to know everything about a company before their first interview. Perception is everything, and your ghosting could create the perception that your company is disorganized, disrespectful, unprofessional, or lacking in leadership. Accountability is key in business relationships, and ghosting implies that you haven’t been accountable and responsible for your business decisions. Even if this isn’t the case, the way you treat candidates is a reflection of your business and personal brand.

You waste time.

The recruiting process for candidates can be costly — not only from a dollars and cents perspective but also in terms of time. All the coordination, meetings, follow-ups, feedback sessions with your team, job listings, and recruiters cost both time and money.

Ghosting wastes productivity, resources, and potential hires. Say you wanted to hire a candidate but didn’t have the budget and you left them waiting in agonizing silence. A couple of months later you land a major contract and you suddenly have a windfall. That candidate you wanted to hire? Consider them gone. You have to start the process all over again because of your bad business etiquette.

People have long memories.

You can’t afford to breed ill will with candidates, because the world is small and you never know how and when you’ll meet the candidate again.

Today’s job seeker could become tomorrow’s lucrative client, vendor, or potential partner. Impressions are lasting and people travel in similar circles — you never want negative feelings attached to your business, even if it wasn’t your intention.

How to Stop Ghosting

Don’t worry — it’s not all gloom and doom and 1-star Glassdoor and Yelp reviews. You can fix a ghosting situation through accountability and communication.

Responding to a candidate late is better than radio silence. It gives them closure. Apologize, own the communication delay, and tell them where you’ve landed in your search. You could write something along the lines of:

Hey, Mike,

So sorry for the delayed response. I should’ve written you sooner. Unfortunately, we’ve decided to go with another candidate, but I appreciate your time and our chat, and would love to keep in touch about future opportunities. Best of luck in your search!

More and more companies are ghosting job applicants — even after hosting multiple rounds of promising interviews. After the ignored phone calls and emails, candidates are left wondering what happened and they end up frustrated and disappointed. More importantly, they’ve issued a Scarlet A on your business.

Even if the communication breakdown wasn’t intentional, every decision and action you take is a reflection of how you manage your business. Don’t be Casper; be the leader who picks up the phone or writes the email and takes responsibility for their actions.