One of the dilemmas of modern life is how to manage one’s connections and relationships on social media. When do you declare you’re in a relationship with someone on Facebook? And do you name the person (thereby linking to their profile) when you do so? Are you obliged to befriend online your existing connections’ partners after you have met them in the flesh? The list of agonising online social faux pas connected with this issue goes on and on.
The most fraught one of all is whether you should befriend work colleagues on Facebook. Yes, you may get on really well with certain colleagues and you may not want to cause offence by turning down invitations to connect online, but there are good reasons not to. Here are seven of them:
1) Are your work colleagues really your friends?
Are you really friends with your work colleagues? Yes, you might get on with them and you may like them, but would you be friends with them if you did not work with them? These are tricky, delicate questions to answer, and require a person to be brutally honest with themselves about their relationships.
Facebook, by its nature, is perceived to be the most personal of the social networks, where you nominally choose a closed circle of nominated family and friends to share updates and posts. As a result, people do tend to share opinions or comments of a more personal nature than they might do in a work canteen. It’s therefore important to evaluate your friendships before bringing them into your Facebook fold.
Alternatively, you could accept your work friends on Facebook but start being more careful and circumspect in what you post or share on the network. While this is not entirely such a bad idea anyway, you will be in effect self-censoring because you’ve connected with someone you don’t entirely know or entirely trust, which in turn raises questions about the nature of that friendship.
2) By accepting an invitation from a colleague, you may be expected to accept all such invitations
Like all social networks, the default setting on Facebook is to advertise all new connections made to both parties’ existing networks. The moment you accept a Facebook friend request from a work colleague, chances are you will start receiving other requests from other work colleagues who are already friends with your new connection.
While you may be happy (or relatively happy) to connect on Facebook with one or two particular colleagues, you may not be willing to do so with others, possibly for the reasons outlined in point one. In that scenario, you will be put in the situation of ignoring these unwanted friend requests from colleagues, which could put you in a potentially awkward situation. Would those whose requests have been ignored by you take umbrage or offence at your decision? Would those work colleagues read more into the declined request than there actually is to it? You could avoid all of this by not connecting with anyone on Facebook in your current work environment.
3) Professionally, things may change
You may be great friends with certain work colleagues in the here and now, but what if the professional dynamics change within your office? You may get promoted over your new Facebook work friend, which might either sour the relationship or change the dynamics of it (how could it not?). Or your Facebook friend could get promoted above you, and your own feelings towards that person may change.
And if the professional dynamics change, causing the friendship to wane, what are you meant to do online? Unfriending that person is quite a potent statement that could easily be misconstrued. So why not wait before you befriend that colleague online until you know for sure that the friendship is a solid one that is also clearly established away from the workplace?
4) You may be expected to monitor colleagues’ Facebook posts for bad behaviour
If you are promoted above your colleagues with whom you are also Facebook friends, you may be expected to line manage those friends, and this could extend to monitoring (either actively or passively) their Facebook posts.
This is particularly true in relation to absenteeism from the workplace. A colleague may have phoned in sick into the office, but he may be bragging on Facebook about the wild night he had before. As a line manager you are in an awkward position if you are also connected with that person on Facebook. Admittedly, it is the absent colleague who is clearly at fault here, and if their own stupid behaviour (both offline and online) gets them into trouble in the workplace, so be it. But why should you be put in a position where you feel you have to police colleagues online?
Conversely, why would you necessarily want to be connected on Facebook with your line manager anyway? I doubt they would necessarily want you to see their family photos et al, and why open up your personal life to the wider professional sphere? One must always be careful with what one posts online, but there is no need to put yourself under any unnecessary, ambiguous stress if you suspect your workplace is proactively or casually monitoring your Facebook posts.
5) Facebook is not the appropriate network; there are alternatives
As has already been mentioned, Facebook is the most personal of the social networks and is only one of many options out there. If colleagues really do want to connect with you online via a social network, why not ask them to connect with you on LinkedIn instead? By its very nature, LinkedIn is a business-orientated platform that is more befitting if you want to network online with colleagues, and those connections could come in handy at a later stage if you are looking to get recommendations or endorsements on your own LinkedIn profile.
6) Your Facebook account may be brought into professional disputes
Imagine a scenario where an accusation is made in the workplace about bullying or another form of harassment, either against you yourself or a colleague you are close to. In the modern age, the allegations could easily encompass online behaviour on social networks just as much as in the workplace itself.
Facebook is a place where people often share humour or comments that are near the knuckle, can be misconstrued (deliberately or otherwise), and would not necessarily be shared in the same way in ‘real’, offline life, whether it be in a social setting or a workplace.
By bringing your work colleagues into your Facebook network, you are automatically sharing information of a personal nature and commentary that would not necessarily tie in with your own professional demeanour. If you comment on a colleague’s Facebook post or status, be prepared that this could be cited further down the line in any professional disputes that may arise.
Chances are that you are a sensible person who would know what is appropriate or what is not, but do not underestimate the anger or resentment that can arise between colleagues, whether those emotions are aimed at yourself or another colleague you are close to. By being on Facebook with all these people, you are only raising the chances of being brought into a dispute that may have nothing to do with you. Why bother to take the risk? Don’t connect with colleagues on Facebook.
7) Is there any real need to connect in the first place?
In a typical office environment, you tend to see your colleagues five days a week for a minimum of eight hours a day (often more). Cumulatively, over a period of months, you see your work colleagues more often than you do your friends, family and probably life partner (if you bear in mind that the majority of the time you spend out of the office will be spent asleep). Given this excessive exposure to your work colleagues over those that you genuinely care about, why connect with them in Facebook in the first place? They, more than anyone, probably already know what you are feeling, what kind of day you are having and what you had for lunch.
Do your work colleagues honestly need to know any more about you? Do they really want to? In some ways, Facebook is a redundant communications platform for those with whom you have near daily contact. After all, you may want to bear in mind the words of Thomas Aquinas, who first said, “Familiarity breeds contempt”.
Nick Lewis Communications can provide training in Facebook as well as offer professional management of Facebook Business pages feeds. To find out, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07970 839137.