Photo by William Iven on Unsplash
Whether you’re the owner or MD of a business or a manager within the hierarchy, this question is something you’ve probably pondered: should you be friends with employees on Facebook?
Rejecting or ignoring a friend request can be a difficult decision to make. You likely consider these people friends at work, maybe even socialise sometimes out of work. However, cementing that friendship on social media can bring a host of problems when you’re back in the office together.
If you’ve been working hard to build good rapport with your team, it can be tempting to make that online connection, but consider connecting with them on LinkedIn instead. LinkedIn is better suited for work connections as it’s designed to be a professional platform and the users tend not to post intimate details like they do on Facebook.
If your business is a small business with a friendly family feel, then the close-knit nature might make it more difficult to reject a request, the last thing you want to do is offend employees. However, having a clear and consistent policy and being honest with your employees should help them understand that you’re not snubbing them.
Some people post the details of their entire lives to Facebook, and that means you’re likely to find out a whole lot more about your employees than you would at work. What they had for lunch, what they watch on TV, what their political persuasion is, and how much they had to drink at the weekend. Then if that employee is made redundant at some point or you are forced to start disciplinary proceedings, there’s a chance they could claim they were being targeted for something that was shared on Facebook.
That might sound far-fetched, but employment lawyers are warning against this very thing: “online relations between boss and employee can trigger or exacerbate a host of legal claims, including harassment, discrimination or wrongful termination” the National Law Journal claims.
If you’re a newly promoted manager and you were friends with some of your peers on Facebook before the promotion, then this could leave you in a tricky situation. Do you retain that “friendship” going forward, or risk damaging the working relationship by “unfriending” them? In this instance, you could consider making them Facebook Acquaintances – see the section below.
If you don’t feel comfortable rejecting or ignoring friend requests, then there are a few things you can do to minimise the negative impact.
You can hide the employee’s posts. This keeps the relationship intact, but means you won’t see any of their posts or photos in your Facebook feed.
Then add them to Facebook’s built-in Acquaintance list (see how) and change the audience for your posts to be “Friends except Acquaintances”. Now the social contract is intact (you’re friends on Facebook), but you won’t see their posts and they won’t see yours.
While we definitely recommend against being friends with employees on Facebook, if you can’t avoid it or choose otherwise, make sure you’re consistent in your approach. Accepting friend requests from some of your employees and not others can lead to accusations of favouritism.
Other Social Networks
We’ve focused this article on Facebook as it’s the big one, but what about other social networks? Twitter? Instagram? Snapchat? LinkedIn?
The advice is generally the same, but it all comes down to what is being posted. Posts on Facebook tend to be of a personal nature and that’s why it’s wise to be careful. However, details posted on LinkedIn tends to be professional in nature so are unlikely to cause problems.
It’s probably been pretty apparent throughout this article, that our answer to the question in the title is “HELL NO!” But we’re also aware that it’s not always straightforward in practice. If you do decide to go against that advice, the important thing is to tread carefully and take some of the other tips we’ve mentioned here. It’s also wise to have a social media policy detailing what’s expected of your employees when posting on social media and giving some guidelines to help avoid some of the pitfalls we’ve covered.
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