It can be a touchy subject. You spend much of your waking day with your coworkers, they almost feel like friends - and some of them may be. However, where do you draw the line when it comes to separating your personal and professional life? An especially tricky area to master is finding that line for social media. Social has made our lives much easier in many ways, but it has also created an entire new set of business etiquette rules that can be difficult to navigate. The right answer of whether you should friend your coworkers really depends on where you work, and the types of relationships you hold at work. Here are a few ideas to help you make the best decision for you and your career.
Whether you like it or not, your online presence directly impacts your real life. Recently a TSA employee was fired for posting racial comments to his Facebook page, and another woman was let go for her inappropriate post related to her job at a daycare. These are both clearly extreme examples, but neither employee probably thought of the consequences for their actions the same actions many people do everyday.
When someone you work with asks to be your friend on a social network, you may not know how to respond. On one hand, you want to keep your relationship with this person positive, as you see them almost everyday. However, there may be things on your social media pages you don’t want to share with the entire office, and that’s okay too. It’s not that you have anything to hide, but there are some parts of your life you may just want to keep private. So, what’s a responsible employee to do?
As the primarily professional-focused site, it is very normal and common to friend your coworkers here and follow your company page or any groups your business is associated with. Treat LinkedIn as a place to grow your own connection network and use it showcase who you are and what you’ve accomplished throughout your career. However, also keep this in mind though when updating your profile or commenting on a post. You should treat LinkedIn like the office water cooler, a public place where everyone at the office can hear you. You should be free to be yourself, but yourself in a professional environment.
Facebook is where the road gets trickier to navigate. As the largest social network, it is almost guaranteed that the majority of your office has an active account. You hopefully even have a page dedicated to your building or office. But what if you’re just not comfortable with that type of transparency in your life? That is absolutely fine, below are some tips to declining an unwanted friend request, gracefully.
You may be able to get away with it unnoticed. Facebook doesn’t send notifications to members when a requested friend turns their invite down. However, if you interact with this person regularly, you owe them an honest and polite explanation. Say you’ve made the decision to keep your professional and personal life separate on this site, and that you’d be more than happy to connect with them on LinkedIn.
This really is a tough one. Hopefully it doesn’t happen to you unexpectedly, but if it does the best thing to do is to be honest. If you’re uncomfortable sharing the information you post on Facebook with your superior simply follow the advice above and say you use Facebook for just personal relationships and that you’d be happy to connect with them on LinkedIn. If you think your boss would be personally offended by your rejection, consider accepting the request and switching your posts to only been seen by select friends. You can do this before you post anything by clicking the box to the left of the “post” box, click the drop down arrow and select who sees that particular post. But remember, nothing you post on any social media is truly private. Also remember if you know your boss outside of work, or got the job through them, "friending" them on Facebook isn’t completely unexpected.
If you work in a casual, small or creative office you probably have nothing to be concerned about. Offices are getting more relaxed all the time, especially with the pool of Millennial talent coming in. If it doesn’t seem like a big deal, then it probably isn’t. If you interact with your office’s company Facebook page willingly and feel comfortable telling people where you work, there shouldn’t be much concern about friending your coworkers.
Now if you work for a law firm or a government agency, it’s probably in your best interest to err on the side of caution. Or even if your office is a little more conservative than most, or if you work for a Fortune 500 company that is very large - it’s always better to be safe than sorry, and too cautious rather than defending yourself later. Or even if you just don’t feel comfortable connecting on that level with people you work with. Unless your company social media policy demands it, you are completely entitled to do as you please, just do so respectfully.
Kaitlan Whitteberry is a Magna Cum Laude graduate from the University of Missouri's journalism program, and currently focuses on iOFFICE press releases, software updates and related news.