Should You Be “Friends” With Your Boss on Social Media?

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You log on to your Facebook account 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? Well, if the friend request happens to come from your boss, you may not want to be so quick to click confirm.

By connecting to a co-worker through social media, you put your relationship on the fast track. Once confirmed as a friend, they will have access to information that would have taken years to gather at the water cooler. Sure, you monitor your profile and don’t post unflattering photos or information, but the thing to remember about social media is that 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 that Christmas party you attended last year – 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 – for instance, “Congrats on your pregnancy” – could spill sensitive news earlier than you were hoping to share it with your employer.

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. 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 a 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. This normally includes sharing of personal and family news and activities on an informal basis, with proper boundaries of what is shared so that the employee does not violate family confidences and compromise a boss’s confidence in employee ability to perform at peak capacity.” The operative word here: Boundaries.

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, in many cases such as kids’ birthday parties and company barbecues, 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,” says Dale. But, she adds, “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. 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 sharing family information one day and receiving a job evaluation the next. “This depends upon discretion,” says Dale, “about how sharing of personal information creates an impression of who an employee is for the boss – an employee’s maturity and stability, ability to deal with the stressors of family life and how much it is negatively affecting work performance. Also to be taken into consideration is how well-established with a good professional reputation an employee is. Is the person in trouble with 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 warns that being a closed book can be just as dangerous as being completely open when it comes to your work relationships. “It is not possible to completely keep personal and work life separate. Employees who intentionally are opaque about their personal lives are seen as standoffish and not team players, and it is harder to build the trust with them that is necessary for the group collaboration that most workplaces require now.”

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

Eleanor-Scott Davis is the associate editor at Piedmont Parent and lives in Winston-Salem.

> Read the Top 5 Dos and Don’ts on Personal Relationships at Work