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Should Bosses and Employees Be Facebook Friends? The Evolving Rules

It’s increasingly common for supervisors and employees to be friends on social media. But is it a good idea? After all, social media is a personal space for many people. Some bosses and subordinates, if asked to connect on Facebook, for example, might feel like it’s too much mixing of the personal and professional. But others might feel it’s simple a standard request, like having someone’s email address.

The question of whether to connect on social media or not needs to be considered with a look at the expectations of your industry and company. 

Fortunately, there’s an evolving set of standards for become Facebook friends. (And these evolving conduct codes, of course, also apply to other social media channels.) Here are three evolving rules.

  1. Bosses should never ask

It’s pretty clear that bosses should never ask their direct reports to be Facebook friends. Why? Because many people do keep Facebook as a private space, and it can feel intrusive to have a boss attempt to bridge a gap that many prefer to be kept separate.

This is true even if you are genuinely personal friends with the subordinate. Friending one person on your team but not another can lead to charges of favoritism, and to resentment.

There is a final reason why bosses should never ask. As the Society for Human Resource Management points out, the kind of personal information people post on Facebook might inadvertently become problematic for employers. Think of a scenario when an employee is on a layoff list due to economic conditions, for example. The planned layoff is not based on any personal factors.

But what if, at roughly the same time, the same employee joins a cancer support group on Facebook. She could argue that her boss knew she had cancer from her membership in the group, and that the layoff stemmed from the company’s fear that her condition would impact her performance.

Human resources professionals can think of multiple ways in which personal information can become complicated, both to themselves and to supervisors.

  1. Weigh all the factors

Okay, but what if a subordinate asks you to connect on social media? The best thing to do is to weigh all the factors.

Perhaps the most important considerations here are your industry, company, and position. Human resources professionals, as we’ve seen, stay away from friending on social media because of potential legal and personnel issues.

But what if you’re in the social media industry? If your company is engaged in social media, or you’re deeply in social media marketing, there could be an unofficial assumption that everyone will connect on Facebook. If it’s standard in your industry or company to connect on social media, feel free to connect.

But in many industries, social media is considered private. If it is, follow those informal rules.

Finally, place future considerations in the mix as well. What if you or the employee shifts companies or careers? Will you still be comfortable being in the person’s social network?

  1. Suggest alternatives

Part of the etiquette of social media is that each channel is devoted to a different thing. Many people consider Twitter, for example, a public media. Facebook and Instagram are gray areas, used both for personal information and to build business brands.

But there’s one social media universally agreed to be for business. It’s LinkedIn. If you’re asked by a subordinate to connect on social media, consider connecting on LinkedIn. It responds in a professional and friendly way, with no problematic areas.