Should You Let Your Boss Be a Friend on Facebook?


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You log on to Facebook to find that you have a new friend request. Great news, right? Someone wants to be your friend, and what's the harm in that? If the friend request happens to be from your boss, you may not want to be so quick to click "confirm."

By connecting to a boss or coworker through social media, you put your relationship on the fast track. Once confirmed as a friend, he or she may have access to information that would take years to gather at the water cooler. Sure, you monitor your profile and don't post unflattering photos or information, but with social media, you have as much control of your own persona as you have control over the Internet. Which is to say, little to none at all.

Remember last year's Christmas party — the one where the eggnog was a little stronger than you anticipated? Your brother-in-law has a great photo, and he is about to tag you in it on Facebook. No skeletons in your closet? Sometimes even the most positive wall posts — "Congrats on your pregnancy," for instance — could spill sensitive news earlier than you planned to share it with your employer.

Balance openness with personal boundaries

Diana Dale, director of the Worklife Institute in Houston, discourages employees from linking with superiors through social media such as Facebook.

"There is too little control on privacy and keeping other relationships separate," she says. "It tends to become a distraction, and an employee can be seen as spending too much unfocused time. It also encourages thoughtless, off-the-cuff interactions that can compromise the professional image an employee wants to maintain."

Dale, a licensed marriage and family therapist and clinically trained corporate chaplain, recognizes that rapport between employees and their superiors often naturally evolves into something more than task assignment and evaluation.

"An open, collaborative and friendly relationship with one's boss is expected in the contemporary workplace," she says. "This normally includes sharing personal and family news and activities on an informal basis, with proper boundaries [for] what is shared so that the employee does not violate family confidences and compromise a boss's confidence in [the employee's] ability to perform at peak capacity."

The operative word in Dale's advice? Boundaries.

Keep a professional distance

Boundaries are ordinarily easy to define and maintain. When children are thrown into the equation, however, it can become more complicated.

Many workplaces encourage family interaction and, sometimes, like at company events, it's unavoidable.

"It is a good idea for employees to be sure that they and their families are active participants in [company] events, as it is a career enhancer, signaling to management that they make the company a priority [and] value building company morale and bonding with the boss," Dale says.

Accepting invitations to socialize outside of the company can be trickier. "It is touchier to begin accepting personal invitations to socialize outside of company functions, unless it is part of the cultural expectations, such as between junior and senior officers and their families," Dale says. "It is generally safer to have several families at the same level of seniority in the company entertain in a family-friendly format."

Sticky situations can arise when an employee shares family information one day and receives a job evaluation the next. Other considerations include an employee's professional reputation, performance, maturity and stability, as well as the ability to deal with stress and how it may affect work performance.

"Maintaining a more formal relationship with the boss is important, for one's own sense of dignity and also so that the supervision isn't compromised," Dale says.

Let co-workers know you

Dale warns that being a closed book can be just as dangerous as being completely open when it comes to work relationships.

"It is not possible to completely keep personal and work life separate," she says. "Employees who intentionally are opaque about their personal lives are seen as standoffish and not team players." It also is harder to build the trust necessary for group collaboration, which most workplaces now require.

The best advice to follow when navigating work relationships beyond the office most often comes from your own inclinations. Be open, but be cautious about how much you share. Be friendly, but also be professional. And when a friendship with your boss presents itself, accept it gladly — just not on Facebook.

Eleanor-Scott Davis is the associate editor at Piedmont Parent magazine.

Personal Relationship

Dos and Don'ts

Savannah Shaw of Charlotte-based Savannah Shaw & Associates provides business etiquette expertise to companies through training, consultation and coaching. She shares her top five dos and don'ts on personal relationships at work:

  • Don't bring up what could become uncomfortable subjects, but instead present open-ended possibilities such as, "Tell me about yourself."
  •  Don't feel like you have to share things you prefer to keep to yourself. You manage your personal and professional life and should set your own boundaries.
  • Do remember that business functions often appear under the guise of social events, so always treat these as you would a professional gathering.
  • Do listen. A good communicator exhibits a balance of speaking and listening.
  • Do keep in mind that just because someone's perspective is different from your own, that doesn't make one person right and the other wrong. Open-mindedness is one of the most valuable assets for an employer or employee.
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