You have one friend request – Add your boss as a friend?

Let’s face it – regardless of whether you are the summer intern, the manager, or the CEO of your organization, everyone stares out into the same social media minefield and wonders about the etiquette and appropriateness of connecting with work colleagues online.

 

Things are a little bit clearer on LinkedIn and Twitter. With LinkedIn, the objective is to present yourself in the best possible way to your boss, your customers, or potential employers. With Twitter, we are essentially broadcasting little 140-character snapshots about ourselves for anyone to see. If a work colleague decides to add you on LinkedIn or to follow you on Twitter, it shouldn’t feel like an intrusion.

 

Facebook is different!

 

Granted, a few years ago the distinction was much clearer. Facebook was a place for you share updates, photographs, and other content with friends and family. For the 9-5 weekday warriors, Facebook was the safe-space where you could vent about work and long for the weekend. Facebook was a place to let your guard down and be ‘yourself’ among those you trusted. Until recently, millennials were pretty skeptical about connecting with their colleagues online. A 2012 study found that a millennial had an average of 700 Facebook friends, but were typically only connected with 16 colleagues. Furthermore, 64% of millennials did not list their employer on Facebook. These statistics indicate that our Facebook personas had very little to do with our professional personas.

 

Many experts speculated why we were so reluctant to connect with colleagues online. Some argued that social circles are complicated and that in its earlier years Facebook simply didn’t understand this complexity. We often wear different ‘hats’ in different settings. How we behave around our family is different to how we behave around our college friends, which (hopefully) is very different to how we behave in work. We complain about our colleagues to our family and friends, and sometimes we may even complain about our family and friends to anyone that will listen in work. It seemed unnatural to have all of these constituencies in one giant online pool.

 

Prof. Art Markman of the University of Texas at Austin, argued that we are rarely explicit with other about the nature of our relationships. It is possible to be very friendly with someone in a work environment, but never get close enough to be a lifelong friend. Consider this the next time you go to a colleague’s wedding, where it is easy to be reminded that there are different tiers of friendship and work ‘friends’ is one small subset or table at the wedding.

 

Given the asymmetry of the relationship, this awkwardness is especially pronounced when you consider whether you want to be connected with your direct boss online. Another 2012 study found that 20% of respondents were connected with their boss on Facebook. The same study showed that there was a direct correlation between age and one’s comfort with being Facebook friends with your direct supervisor (72% of 18-34 year olds were comfortable with the idea, whereas the majority of 35-54 year olds thought that it would inappropriate).

 

Until recently, there was an implicit understanding that Facebook was personal, whereas LinkedIn and Twitter (to a lesser extent) was professional.

 

I would argue that this divide between the personal and the professional has been changed due to two factors. Firstly, there is simply a larger percentage of the workforce using social media in 2017 than there was a few years ago. The 2017 workforce is much more open to idea of being connected with their co-workers and supervisors online and they are more savvy and conscious of the privacy settings on Facebook. Secondly, alternative social media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat have provided us with an outlet to be a little bit weird with friends, without indulging our entire Facebook network.

 

These changes mean that advice that was once offered to colleagues pondering whether to accept their boss’s friend request is outdated and needs to be revisited:

 

The Traditional School of Thought:

 

  • Only connect with colleagues who you know and trust.
  • Avoid connecting with your direct supervisor.
  • Paint yourself in a positive light – scrub your profile for ‘incriminating’ photos and remove or de-tag questionable content.

 

The 2017 School of Thought:

 

  • Instead of some arbitrary rules based on a rigid hierarchical structure, connect with the colleagues and supervisors you respect and like: the first thing to remember is that the ‘friending’ decision is a whole lot less consequential than it appears. The reality is that some people are connected with hundreds or thousands of people that they don’t really ‘know’. If you are a user that is very selective about your connections, they are unlikely to notice or mind that you ignored their friend request.
  • Weigh up the benefits: consider the culture of your organization and if appropriate, try to blend your personal online image and your professional in-person image – many organizations argue that colleagues that are connected online in a personal way, experience benefits in terms of team dynamics, communication and how we perceive each other.
  • Instead being concerned about how you ‘paint yourself’, be yourself*: you can paint yourself in a positive light on LinkedIn, but you should be yourself on Facebook. Okay, keep the wacky stuff for Snapchat or the photos of your brunch for Instagram, but don’t be afraid to be yourself on Facebook. If you find yourself crossing a line, take another look at the privacy settings and utilize the more intuitive 2017 version of Facebook to group your colleagues accordingly.

 

 

Sources:

The Washington Post

Monster.com

Fast Company

TIME

11 comments

  1. Great post and definitely something to think about. I have recently accepted a job offer, and felt that the team (roughly 20-30 years old, the majority went to BC) were very welcoming, and moreover, a staff that I could simply socialize and get together with after work. Yet, I was still reluctant to add or confirm any of them on FB. It seems to me that there are many other ways to connect, and it felt to me as being too intrusive. If my future boss would add me on FB, I wouldn’t accept either. How likely is it that a FB connection will help my career? My answer is that I think not. Even when my future boss recently asked me to contact him through Whatsapp while he was abroad, I made sure that my profile picture there looks professional too.
    While I do agree that FB privacy settings could be used so that not all your information is exposed to your colleagues, sometimes things can accidentally “slip away.” So I would not trust that mechanism too much.
    Also, just wanted to mention that it was very interesting to notice in The Washington Post article, that the boss’s gender plays a role in the employee’s willingness to accept the invitation, being more inclined to accept a female invitation even when both genders disclosed more information about themselves online. This made me wonder what exactly was the cause for this result.

  2. This was a really good post – especially with so many of the class being young professionals or about to become one. I haven’t had a direct supervisor in the business world try to connect with me – but I’ve certainly wondered about what connections are more appropriate than others. For example, the freshman students I TA for and the kids I nanny have requested me on Instagram and Snapchat, and I hesitate before accepting. I don’t post anything that would cast a negative light on myself – but it is more personal and candid than a Facebook or a LinkedIn.

  3. This was a great post! Very relevant to the entire class, both undergraduate and graduate. I find it interesting that the current consensus with our generation is to cautiously embrace adding your boss on social media because this was still an automatic no for me when I was presented with this situation last summer. While I see the benefit of fostering a more personal connection with your team members in addition to a professional one; I would rather find in-person methods to do so and remain unconnected with them on social media to avoid the potential downsides.

  4. Really interesting post! As someone who’s a bit younger, I’ve definitely seen more of my peers be willing to add their bosses on Facebook without thinking too much about it. I think a lot of my peers see Facebook as a more ‘professional’ place right now anyway, because, for most of us, it’s a social media outlet we know we’re also sharing with family members and even high school teachers or professors, so there’s a level of maturity and privacy maintained. I also think you made a really good point about having other outlets like instagram and snapchat being alternative outlets as “just friends” social media. That being said, I’m still not sure how I would feel about adding my boss on Facebook–I guess that’s something I’ll be facing in a few months. I think Danna makes a really good point, though, in saying that adding your boss on facebook is almost never going to help your professional career (though it won’t necessarily hurt either), so it may not be worth the additional stress.

  5. Very relevant post especially based on the past class and perfect for the audience of undergrads and graduates. Millennials are definitely changing how social media is used and what each one is used for. Facebook blew up and really spread therefore it was easy to have a lot of friends on the page which then led to less people being themselves because they wanted to put on a good face for their “friends”. Now Snapchat is the true honest social media so I can see millennials friending colleagues on bosses on Facebook because it is not as raw, but definitely not even considering using Snapchat. Very interestng topic as we are going into the working world.

  6. Great post! I would agree with you that millennials are more open to the idea of adding their bosses on Facebook, even in situations where their bosses (who oftentimes fall into the 35-54 age category you mentioned) may not feel that comfortable with the social media connection. I also found what you said about the privacy settings on Facebook to be super interesting.

  7. Great post Paul, I definitely think about this a lot when it comes to the online relationships with people at work. I, personally, don’t like to share too much of my personal life anyways on social media, so I would feel fine about accepting their friend request, but I still worry all the time about what one of my friends would say or do. Even in this class, every time I tweet I’m making myself vulnerable about one of my friends being an idiot and looking dumb to my classmates, which isn’t awesome. In general, I still think there should be the rule that one should clean up their act on social media no matter where it is just because the risk is not worth it.

  8. Really interesting post! You hit the nail on the head by saying LinkedIn and Twitter are innately professional, while Facebook has been thought of as personal. I liked how you compared the old and new schools of thought, but I think there’s still relevance in the old school of thought. While I keep my Facebook scrubbed, it’s not because of workplace friends, but because of family. Before I post something that could be perceived as negative or goofy, I wonder what my aunt or my uncle would think about it. Because my Facebook already family-approved, I wouldn’t be quite as weirded out if my boss friended me.

    I actually sent your article to my mom, who has been weirded out when her younger coworkers request her. Age differences in coworkers is an interesting psychological dynamic on social media.

    Friending also puts you in an uncomfortable situation, because if you see them for 40 hours a week, they’ll know if you don’t approve their friend request. You can’t avoid it forever.

  9. I think you highlighted a lot of the important issues with being “friends” with coworkers and supervisors on Facebook. Culture is of huge importance to me when considering this question. For some jobs, it seems really easy to be friends with coworkers on Facebook and for others, there is a clear distinction. I have had bosses who are younger and felt more like peers, so it did not feel out of place to be friends with them on Facebook. Other bosses clearly preferred to keep work and personal life separate. Additionally, I think that since people have long been on high alert of companies and schools finding your account, most people are careful about what the post on Facebook.

    In all, I agree with you that things are changing and it definitely is not as big of a decision as it once might have been.

  10. I loved reading your take on this subject! I think I fall on the traditional side of friending on facebook and I have never friended a boss on twitter. I always seem to only friend those who are equals with me or after I have left a place. For example, after I graduated highschool, I friended my teachers. On the other side at my summer internship I only friended the other interns. I did the same for Linkedin. When I left my internship, I connected with my boss and other co-workers. However, I never would have done this while I was still working. If they had reached out to me on linkedin or facebook I would have accepted but as the intern I felt it was up to them.

  11. This is a tough one. I bet Prof Chang would absolutely say “Don’t” friend your boss on Facebook. I’m not sure I agree anymore. I’ve lost total control of my FB feed as a meaningful social tool, because it’s just too ubiquitous. I think of it more of everybody’s personal website these days, and other platforms may be better for actual social interactions.

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