Buddying up to the boss on Facebook

Buddying up to the boss on Facebook

The Globe and Mail

By: Allison Dunfield

When his boss found him on Facebook, a 26-year old worker with a Toronto theatre company thought nothing of accepting her request to make him her "friend."

Now, he deeply regrets it.

"I ‘friended’ her, not really thinking anything of it, but she went through and looked at all my stuff," he says.

That stuff included several photographs of him dancing in his living room, others of him "just standing around, looking forlorn off into the distance."

His boss freely commented on them. About his dancing, she wrote: "Nice moves. I didn’t know you had it in you." About looking forlorn: "You have that far-off look in your eyes."

It all made him very uncomfortable, he says, as though she were invading a part of his life where she just did not belong.

As a result, he cut back on the personal content he posted, but stopped short of cutting her off as a Facebook friend, fearing that could cause its own problems.

"It’s too late once you’ve friended them. I just can’t take her off," says the worker, who asked not to be identified.

Facebook began in 2004 as a way for university students to connect, but now that the online social networking site’s popularity has exploded, expanding its reach into every corner, it is raising some prickly and delicate issues in the workplace: How do you respond to requests to connect with superiors, peers and other work-related people in a forum created mainly to share personal material about life outside of work?

Many are finding the line that now blurs work and after-work personas tricky to straddle.

In a recent online Globe and Mail poll, 84 per cent of nearly 5,200 respondents answered no to the question of whether they would add their boss to their list of Facebook friends.

"The whole thing is so grey. There are a lot of challenges with Facebook," says career coach Alan Kearns, Toronto-based founder of CareerJoy.

"All of a sudden, people have a view into other people’s personal lives. It can bring up all kinds of things … I think people are just starting to come to terms with that."

And how it’s handled can be helpful – or harmful – to a career, Mr. Kearns adds.

It’s not only what employers see about employees; it can be equally uncomfortable the other way around.

When a 35-year-old employee of a financial institution in Regina, his co-workers and his boss joined Facebook last fall, they all friended each other. But the employee, who also asked not to be named, soon found he was seeing things he’d rather not.

When his manager broke up with her boyfriend one weekend, the entire staff knew about it by Monday because she changed her status on Facebook to indicate she was single.

Staff spent an uncomfortable few days in the lunch room, the employee says, knowing that the boss was having relationship woes but unsure whether to say anything.

The news eventually moved from Facebook to the real world when she was spotted crying in the office and began telling everyone about the situation.

Worse, she continued to write about her feelings on Facebook, the employee says. "Do I really need to see that?" he asks."

The employee says that it would be too awkward to end his Facebook friendships with the manager and co-workers.

So he now spends little time on their pages to avoid seeing anything too personal.

So who should friend who?

Being Facebook friends with workmates can be useful for quick communication, notifications and building camaraderie, career experts say.

Becoming friends with the boss is a stickier decision, the experts say.

"If you say no, then that could jeopardize your relationship. And if you say yes, then you are exposing another side of you," says Janine Turner, a consultant in the communications practice of Mandrake Management, an executive search firm in Toronto.

If handled right, being buddies with the boss can be helpful – from building a stronger relationship to making other potential career-enhancing connections, experts say.

Jason Alba, chief executive officer of career site JibberJobber.com and co-author of I’m on Facebook – Now What???, considers it a smart career move to give your boss access to your page. "I would absolutely connect … because I want to have a strong social network."

Career consultant Paul Copcutt, founder of Square Peg Solution in Hamilton, adds that you can turn a Facebook connection to advantage by finding out things you have in common with the boss and using them to create stronger ties.

"The closer you are with your boss – within proper boundaries – that’s not going to hurt your career, that can only help you," Mr. Kearns says.

But he adds that interactions between bosses and employees must be kept professional, and never flirtatious or goofy.

And if you’re going to open your Facebook profile up to your boss’s eyes, you’d better having nothing incriminating on it.

"Keep it [your page] clean," Mr. Alba says – meaning no drunken photos, embarrassing stories or comments from others, or bad language for a boss to stumble upon.

Buddying up with the boss also brings the danger of mistakenly feeling that you are equals in the real world as well, says Beverly Langford, author of The Etiquette Edge: The Unspoken Rules for Business Success.

"A lot of times, people, particularly those who have formed a kind of social network with the boss, overstep the bounds of professionalism and get into a social intimacy that is not appropriate," she says.

Not all employees want the Facebook connection – and bosses should be sensitive to and respect their right to refuse it, Mr. Copcutt says.

If a friend request from the boss causes you to panic, Ms. Turner suggests saying something like: "I have a professional persona at work that you’re happy with and I’m happy with, but sometimes I let off steam and I do that in the comfort of my friends and family. As much as I really enjoy your company at work, I don’t want to include you in that circle. Because I need to have that privacy and that space that is mine."

What about co-workers? Taking office friendships on-line will depend on the workplace culture, experts say.

For example, if many people are sending out requests and there is a "buzz" about Facebook, it’s probably safe to become online friends, Mr. Alba says.

But if you work at a firm where nobody is talking about it, "I would think that would be really weird," he adds.

As for clients, while you may enjoy someone’s company, you should be careful about moving to a Facebook relationship, Mr. Kearns warns, unless you want to spend time with them in real life.

"Are they expecting you to invite them to your parties?" Mr. Kearns asks.

Still, many people see boss and colleague friend requests as just part of a world where work life bleeds into home life.

Miranda Macdonald, a 24-year-old Nortel Networks Corp. media relations specialist in Toronto, says that having her co-workers and a former boss on her page isn’t a problem for her.

Because she works on a virtual team with colleagues in Ottawa, Asia and Europe, sharing photos and information is not unlike "having a conversation about my weekend around the water cooler," Ms. Macdonald says.

However, Ms. Macdonald admits that she keeps a close eye on her page, and avoids posting photos that could be problematic.

She checks her Facebook page frequently for comments made by friends that could be inappropriate, and, if she finds anything questionable, she removes it.

"I go through and do a bit of an audit. And the things on there are things I would openly share."

There are ways to make workplace connections on Facebook without lettin
g them totally intrude, the pros say.

One way is to use privacy settings on a Facebook account to limit who can see what, keeping racy information for certain eyes only.

Another is to use an option that allows people to create groups, with different privacy setting levels.

So you could put co-workers, bosses and clients on such a list, for example, and limit what they can see on the rest of your page.

If you don’t want to create any hard feelings, you can also accept all friend requests, but then quietly remove those you don’t want.

Another tactic that the experts suggest: Keep your Facebook for family and friends, and use other more business-oriented networking sites, such as LinkedIn, Ecademy and Plaxo, for professional connections.

If you insist on using Facebook with everyone, Mr. Kearns says, one other sneaky idea is to set up one page using your real name for professional use, and another using an alias that only your friends and family know.

Handling friendships with workplace mates

You gotta have friends. On Facebook, that is. But do they have to include bosses, co-workers and clients?

Here are tips for handling Facebook friendships with workplace mates:

Use personal information gleaned from a boss’s page to find common ground that can be used to strengthen relationships.

Respect an employee’s right to refuse a friend request.

Keep it clean: Remove material that could harm impressions or your reputation before letting co-workers or superiors see your page.

Make use of privacy control settings, putting limits on who can see what.

Make use of features that allow you to create groups of people, such as bosses and co-workers, who can gain entry to some parts of your Facebook page, but not all.

To avoid insult, accept all friend requests, then quietly remove those you don’t want later on; they will not be notified that your friendship has ended and so will be none the wiser.

Create two different accounts, one under your real name for professional connections, and another under an alias known only to family and friends.

Use Facebook for personal social networking and other more business-oriented sites, such as LinkedIn, Ecademy or Plaxo, for professional networking.

Be wary of accepting friends invitations from friends of friends who you may not know.

Stay on top of what others post on your site. Keep checking what photos people add to your site or what they’re writing on our public wall; delete any damaging material immediately.

Be careful what you say about work. Even though social networking sites began as "fun" interactions, you could get the company in trouble by writing negative things or even being shown in compromising photos wearing clothing with the company’s logo. Some experts recommend not discussing your workplace at all on your social page.

Respect no. If any work-related person is not interested in accepting a friend invite, take the hint. Don’t continue to bug with requests.